The Connecticut Supreme Court today ruled that denying marriage rights to same-sex couples is unconstitutional.
"Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same sex partner of their choice," the ruling says.
"The guarantee of equal protection under the law, and our obligation to uphold that command, forbids us from doing so. In accordance with these state constitutional requirements, same sex couples cannot be denied the freedom to marry."
Eight same-sex couples sued, claiming their constitutional rights to equal protection and due process were violated when they were denied marriage licenses.
Three states down, 47 to go.
More from the decision below:
The case is Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health. I'm skipping the procedural history, standards of review, and other legalese. All emphasis is mine.
We conclude that, in light of the history of pernicious discrimination faced by gay men and lesbians, and because the institution of marriage carries with it a status and significance that the newly created classification of civil unions does not embody, the segregation of heterosexual and homosexual couples into separate institutions constitutes a cognizable harm. We also conclude that (1) our state scheme discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, (2) for the same reasons that classifications predicated on gender are considered quasi-suspect for purposes of the equal protection provisions of the United States constitution, sexual orientation constitutes a quasi-suspect classification for purposes of the equal protection provisions of the state constitution, and, therefore, our statutes discriminating against gay persons are subject to heightened or intermediate judicial scrutiny, and (3) the state has failed to provide sufficient justification for excluding same sex couples from the institution of marriage.
Especially in light of the long and undisputed history of invidious discrimination that gay persons have suffered; see part V A of this opinion; we cannot discount the plaintiffs’ assertion that the legislature, in establishing a statutory scheme consigning same sex couples to civil unions, has relegated them to an inferior status,
in essence, declaring them to be unworthy of the institution of marriage. In other words,
‘‘[b]y excluding samesex couples from civil marriage, the [s]tate declares that it is legitimate to differentiate between their commitments and the commitments of heterosexual couples. Ultimately, the message is that what same-sex couples have is not as important or as significant as ‘real’ marriage, that such lesser relationships cannot have the name of marriage.’’
Although the legislature has determined that same sex couples are entitled to ‘‘all the same benefits, protections and responsibilities . . . [that] are granted to spouses in a marriage’’; General Statutes § 46b-38nn; the legislature nonetheless created an entirely separate and distinct legal entity for same sex couples even though it readily could have made those same rights available to same sex couples by permitting them to marry. In view of the exalted status of marriage in our society, it is hardly surprising that civil unions are perceived to be inferior to marriage. We therefore agree with the plaintiffs that ‘‘[m]aintaining a second-class citizen status for same-sex couples by excluding them from the institution of civil marriage is the constitutional infirmity at issue.’
Although marriage and civil unions do embody the same legal rights under our law, they are by no means ‘‘equal.’’
Gay persons have been subjected to and stigmatized by a long
history of purposeful and invidious discrimination that continues to manifest itself in society. The characteristic that defines the members of this group—attraction to persons of the same sex—bears no logical relationship to their ability to perform in society, either in
familial relations or otherwise as productive citizens. Because sexual orientation is such an essential component of personhood, even if there is some possibility that a person’s sexual preference can be altered, it
would be wholly unacceptable for the state to require anyone to do so. Gay persons also represent a distinct minority of the population. It is true, of course, that gay persons recently have made significant advances
in obtaining equal treatment under the law. Nonetheless, we conclude that, as a minority group that continues to suffer the enduring effects of centuries of legally sanctioned discrimination, laws singling them out for disparate treatment are subject to heightened judicial scrutiny to ensure that those laws are not the product of such historical prejudice and stereotyping.
Okay, I'm about a third of the way through the case, but I have to take a break to do some actual work. I'll try to make my way through the rest of the case as soon as I can.