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Gay and lesbian couples have not been harmed by the state’s decision to legalize same-sex civil unions rather than grant them full marriage rights, a state Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday. The plaintiffs plan to appeal the ruling to the state’s highest court. “Civil union and marriage in Connecticut now share the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under law,” Judge Patty Jenkins Pittman in New Haven wrote. “The Connecticut Constitution requires that there be equal protection and due process of law, not that there be equivalent nomenclature for such protection and process.” (Read Superior Court July 12 Memorandum of Decision On Cross-Motions For Summary Judgment in Elizabeth Kerrigan et al. v. State of Connecticut et al.) Connecticut became the second state in the nation, after Vermont, to allow civil unions. In 2005, the Democrat-controlled legislature passed, and Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed into law, a bill legalizing civil unions but defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Eight couples sued the state, claiming civil unions are an inferior status and violate their constitutional rights to equal protection, due process and free expression and association. The plaintiffs sought a court injunction compelling the state to grant each couple a marriage license rather than a civil union license, which the judge denied. Ben Klein, senior attorney for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the organization that represented the couples, said Jenkins Pittman is misguided in her belief there is no difference between civil unions and marriage. “Not many married couples would trade in their marriage for a civil union,” Klein said. “The legislature set up civil unions to deny the benefits of marriage. Marriage is the most respected institution and (state legislators) did not want gay couples to get access to marriage.” Plaintiffs Barbara Levine-Ritterman and her partner, Robin Levine-Ritterman, have been together 17 years. The New Haven couple have two children. “Obviously, it’s not the decision we hoped for, but we know it’s one step in a long journey. I’m not surprised but I’m not pleased,” Barbara Levine-Ritterman said. “I’m proud that the legislature enacted civil unions, but it’s a halfway step.” Jenkins Pittman, who noted how the legislature took “the courageous and historic step” of passing civil unions legislation, said lawmakers created an identical set of rights for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. She said the plaintiffs’ claims that civil unions are a form of separate-but-equal segregation that aren’t recognized in other jurisdictions don’t rise to the “level of legal harm” required to rule in their favor. She also dismissed claims that the term “civil unions” is inherently offensive. “Though they argue that separate is never equal, they have been subjected to no tangible separation at all; and the court rejects the argument that the rhetorical separation of marriage versus civil union is enough to invoke an equal protection or due process analysis,” the judge wrote. Jenkins Pittman said it’s up to the legislature to change the terminology. The judge’s decision comes after the highest courts in two states dealt gay rights advocates dual setbacks earlier this month, rejecting same-sex couples’ bid to win marriage rights in New York and reinstating a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Georgia. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, whose office represented the state in court, said the ruling leaves open the possibility that the legislature could reconsider extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, but rejects arguments that lawmakers be required to do so. “Essentially, the decision reaffirms the power of the legislature,” he said. Brian Brown, director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, said he’s pleased by the ruling, but said an amendment to the state constitution is still needed defining marriage as between a man and a woman. “Obviously, we believe the people should decide the future of marriage, not the courts. This should be left to the people,” he said. “We understood from the beginning that proponents of same sex marriage would appeal the decision. It shows they’re willing to use the courts to push their agenda.” Associated Press Writer Stephen Singer in Hartford contributed to this report.

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