Connecticut justices of the peace prepare for civil unions

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. -- Connecticut's new law allowing same-sex civil unions takes effect next weekend, and justices of the peace are still learning how to handle the new ceremonies.

"On Oct. 1, civil unions become law in Connecticut, but there is not a JP in that room who knows what to do with it," said Saul Haffner, president of Justices of the Peace of Connecticut, which held a conference Saturday on the law. "It's going to be a mess."

Connecticut is the first state to pass a civil union law, which will confer the same rights as marriage, without court pressure.

The Connecticut law does not require justices and clergy to perform civil unions and some said they won't due to their religions.

Carmela Apuzzo, a justice of the peace in Orange, did not plan to perform civil unions until a priest told her she would simply be performing civil ceremonies.

"This has nothing to do with religion," she said. "It's a contract. I will definitely encourage other people to think of it like that."

Among the questions faced by justices is what they should say at the end of a ceremony. They were advised to pronounce couples "partners in life" rather than "husband and wife."

Civil union applications will have spaces for "party 1" and "party 2" rather than "bride" and "groom." And the seals cities and towns use to make licenses official will be changed to say "vital statistics" rather than "marriage, birth or death."

Haffner said justices of the peace expect a rush of couples who want to have civil union ceremonies on the day the law takes effect, or soon after. The 2000 census found 7,400 same-sex couples in Connecticut.

But Carol Buckheit of Love Makes a Family, the state's major gay rights advocacy group, said many couples did not schedule civil unions then because Oct 1 is a Saturday and it's not clear whether city and town halls would be open to issue licenses. Only a few town clerks have regular Saturday hours, although a handful will open on Oct. 1 just to issue civil union licenses.

Connecticut will recognize civil unions from Vermont and domestic partnerships from California, but not same-sex marriages from Massachusetts. Connecticut lawmakers who passed the civil unions law also defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Same-sex couples married in Massachusetts can have civil unions in Connecticut.

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