The Legislature's Judiciary Committee has passed a bill to update Connecticut marriage laws so they conform to a state Supreme Court ruling last November that legalized same sex marriage.
Lawmakers spent more than three hours debating the legislation to satisfy concerns over protecting religious freedoms.
In a 30 to 10 vote, committee members approved legislation that removes gender references in state marriage laws and calls for existing same sex civil unions to be recognized as marriages by October 2010.
But, before that, four different amendments were introduced that wrestled with how to exempt religious-affiliated organizations from having to accept same sex marriage ceremonies in venues that these groups might own.
Co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Andrew McDonald says the committee was able to finally agree on an amendment by Rep. Arthur O'Neill of Southbury that acknowledged religious liberties while also reconciling state law to codify the State Supreme Court's decision.
"In essense, the amendment makes it clear that churches and church related organizations cannot be required to participate in the performance of marriage ceremonies. And I think that is consistent with the first amendment liberties associated with freedom of religion."
But Family Institute of Connecticut Executive Director, Peter Wolfgang, says the amendment is too weak.
"It only goes to whether same sex wedding ceremonies will be performed in church structures or church related associations. What about Knights of Columbus halls? what about receptions? what about employee benefits for people who work for knights of columbus for catholic charities if they don't want to recognize or validate same sex marriages, this amendment gives them no protection."
Wolfgang says his group will now lobby legislators to include those protections before the bill is voted on by the entire General Assembly.