THE CONNECTICUT high court's ruling Friday that same-sex couples have the right to marry is significant because that state already had a civil unions law on the books. Even though civil unions, adopted in 2005, carried the same legal rights as marriage, the state's Supreme Court ruled that denying the status of marriage itself to same-sex couples was discriminatory. "To decide otherwise," wrote Justice Richard Palmer for the majority, "would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others."
In other words, marriage is more than just a matter of semantics. It carries a significance that civil unions just can't meet. The eight couples who filed suit against the state for denying them marriage licenses had all been in committed relationships lasting from 10 to 30 years, and many of them owned property and were raising children together. Still, without the seal of marriage, the court ruled they were confined to a separate and segregated status, and that is a violation of the Connecticut constitution.
A gratifying aspect of the 85-page ruling is the way it builds on the 2003 Goodridge decision legalizing gay marriage in Massachusetts, and other related cases in New Jersey, California, and elsewhere. Each ruling strengthens the edifice that other courts can build upon. And if there were any doubt that gay marriage is a civil rights issue, the decision cited Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 US Supreme Court decision that legalized interracial marriage.
Denying committed couples of different races the right to marry seems unimaginable now. Connecticut has added more steel to the foundation of civil rights for all.