HARTFORD -- Lidia Agramonte and Maria Gomez now have all the same legal rights as a heterosexual married couple in Connecticut, but they're still not sure how to refer to themselves.
''The hardest thing is what do you call yourself? Civilized?" said Agramonte, 47, of New Britain. ''There are no words for it yet."
Agramonte, a social worker, and Gomez, 50, a small-business owner, were the first in line at Hartford City Hall yesterday morning as a new law allowing same-sex civil unions took effect.
Connecticut is the first state to legalize civil unions without being forced by the courts. Massachusetts has gay marriage and Vermont recognizes civil unions because of lawsuits. The federal government does not recognize civil unions.
''This is a historic day. We're beyond ecstatic," said Randy Sharp, 46, of Plainville, who was third in line at Hartford City Hall to apply for a civil union license with his partner, Jeff Blanchette, 44. They planned an afternoon ceremony.
Most town and city halls across Connecticut were closed yesterday morning, but those in Hartford, Stamford, New Haven, and a half-dozen small towns opened to issue civil union licenses.
The 2000 US Census found about 7,400 same-sex couples in Connecticut, but no one was tracking how many applied for licenses yesterday. The Connecticut Legislature approved the civil unions bill in April, and Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell signed it an hour later.
''One thing that has been lost in the shuffle is the fact that this did happen in an extremely non-controversial way," said state Representative Mike Lawlor, Democrat of East Haven, a key sponsor of the civil unions bill. ''Politicians tend to be afraid of this issues because they think it's political suicide, and I think what happened in Connecticut completely and totally disproved that."
A Quinnipiac University poll taken shortly after the Senate approved the bill found that 56 percent of registered voters in Connecticut backed civil unions, but 53 percent opposed allowing same-sex couples to marry. The civil unions bill includes a provision defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
Hartford officials rolled out the welcome mat, hanging a rainbow flag over the main entrance to City Hall and handing out carnations to newly joined couples. The city clerk, a registrar and two of Mayor Eddie Perez's staffers who are also justices of the peace were on hand to perform ceremonies.