Justices Welcome Same-Sex Marriages
DURHAM – Justices of the peace from throughout the state weighed in on the issue of same-sex marriage Saturday at their annual conference, held at Durham Town Hall. Although town clerks were told by the state’s Department of Public Health that Tuesday is the official release date of the court’s gay-marriage decision, Ben Klein, attorney for the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said Oct. 10 same-sex couples will not be able to wed until mid-November. Regardless of the effective date, town clerks have not been told when the forms will be available or if and how civil unions will be transferred to marriages.
“The only thing we learned is same-sex couples can now get married,” said Kim Garvis, town clerk in Durham.
On the day the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned the ban on gay marriage, Garvis said Durham, a town of 7,200 people, had a single request for a marriage license. But her office did not – and still does not – have an application form.
“The state hasn’t given us what we need,” she said. “If people come to our office, we can’t help them.”
Justices have also not been told whether they will be required to marry gay couples, as their colleagues in Massachusetts were.
“In my mind, if you’re a JP you should marry everyone,” Garvis said.
Saul Haffner, president of the Justice of the Peace Association, which ran the conference, said the association does not require its members to marry any couple, but they do abide by a code of ethics.
“In general, our belief is in personal freedom,” he said.
Bettie-Jeanne Rivard-Darby, a justice of the peace from Ellington, said she can’t wait to marry same-sex couples, but she can understand why the decision is up to individual justices of the peace. She said she occasionally turns down heterosexual couples if she is not comfortable with the situation.
Rivard-Darby has performed eight civil unions and said she prefers uniting same-sex couples.
“Heterosexual couples tend to take it for granted,” she said.
Not gay couples, she said.
To them, “it’s a gift.”
Carol Schweitzer-Schilling, a justice of the peace from Middlefield, said she would be happy to perform a same-sex marriage. She said turning people away based on their sexual orientation is not an option for her.
“I see it as someone coming into the emergency room,” she said. “You can’t turn them away.”
As an appointed official, her role is to serve the people, she said.
Ernest Adams, a justice of the peace from Ledyard, has already scheduled his first same-sex marriage ceremony, but acknowledged that if a justice is not comfortable officiating at one, “it’s going to come out in the ceremony.”
For him, the law means treating all marriages the same, regardless of gender.
“Equality,” he said. “That’s what the law is about – complete equality.”
Beryl Weinstein, of Guilford, who presented during the conference to his fellow justices of the peace about “Partners for Life: Officiating at Weddings of Same Sex Couples,” said he has already gotten two inquiries about same-sex weddings.
Although he does not believe Connecticut should have a law requiring justices of the peace to marry same sex couples, he said he is happy to officiate at a marriage of two men or two women.
“I would hope Connecticut would be smarter than Massachusetts,” he said. “I think that’s an individual decision. If you’re against abortion, no one says you have to have one.”
Weinstein estimates that of the 1,500 justices of the peace in Connecticut who perform weddings, about 75 percent are happy to do same-sex marriages.
“If they want to get married, what difference does it make to me?” he said. “They should have the same right be married I had.”
As for the other 25 percent, Weinstein, who is 82 years old, said, “If they don’t want to do it – don’t.”
“I’ll do it,” he said.
Two more conferences will be held for Connecticut justices of the peace in the coming weeks, one in Bristol on Nov. 8 and one in Norwalk on Nov. 15.
Laura Minor, a Bristol justice of the peace, is scheduled to speak Nov. 8 at Bristol City Hall about “Marrying Gay Couples: Using the Right Words.”
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