Three years after legalizing same-sex marriage, gay couples in Conn. still face legal, tax issues and a lack of federal recognition

NOTE: Front page story in both papers

By Brenda Maguire

Paul Archaski and Steve Banasiewicz a few years ago were just starting to plan a 10th anniversary celebration when they got the  news that changed their lives.

“The whole marriage act fell together for us,” Archaski said. “So we were actually able to get married, which was wonderful.”

The couple tied the knot on June 20, 2009, surrounded by family and friends at South Church in New Britain, a church of which they are both members.

“We were ecstatic,” said Archaski, who later added, “This just made it more meaningful for us, to be able to really get married and have it recognized as a marriage.”

That recognition came in the wake of the state Supreme Court’s 4-3 ruling in Kerrigan vs. Commissioner of Public Health that found the state law against same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The ruling in October 2008 effectively overturned the law, prompting new legislation allowing such unions — and a subsequent rush on marriage licenses.

Three years after the court ruling, there have been 5,929 same-sex weddings performed in Connecticut, as of the first of this month. Bristol has issued 56 same-sex marriage licenses and New Britain 35. But as the number of licenses mount, so do frustrations over inconsistencies between Connecticut law and those laws observed both federally and in other states. Gay couples, for instance, contend with a federal tax system that doesn’t recognize their union.

“Most people just say, ‘You know, we’re going to deal with it later on, we’re going to find a way to make this work,’” said Laura Minor, a justice of the peace who has married about 30 same-sex couples and was an advocate in overturning the Connecticut law that had banned such unions.

The federal Defense of Marriage Act states that only couples who are of different genders may be considered married for federal purposes.

Same-sex couples are not able to obtain spousal Social Security benefits and they cannot use their marriage to adjust immigration status. They also cannot file joint federal tax returns.

“The way Connecticut has it structured for tax purposes, in order to file Connecticut state taxes I need to file a joint one for us federally, kind of unofficially,” explained Archaski. “I need to fill out all the forms but not file it, basically.”

Karen DeMeola of Newington said her spouse had been told by financial aid advisors at her college to file as “single” on her Free Application for Federal Student Aid even though she’s married.

“You feel like you’re lying to your government,” DeMeola said.

The Defense of Marriage Act also gives state governments the right to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages that occurred elsewhere.

Rhode Island, Maryland and Washington, D.C. currently recognize same-sex marriages that are performed in other states, but do not themselves issue such licences. Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont join Connecticut in both issuing same-sex marriage licenses and recognizing same-sex marriages in other states.

Minor said she oversaw the marriage of two men who later moved to Georgia because of a job transfer.

“They lived in Georgia for a year and a half or so, where they could tell people they were married in Connecticut, but it meant nothing in Georgia,” Minor said.

Natalie and Kate Phoenix, married since Nov. 16, 2008, said they’re limited as to where they could go if they ever chose to move away from their home in Burlington.

“It’s not like we can get a job anywhere or move to any state,” Kate Phoenix said. “The states that don’t recognize are ruled out.”

One of the four same-sex marriages the Rev. George Harris of South Church has performed was for a couple who came from Puerto Rico.

“They were just moved beyond belief that they could not only be legally married but also married in a church,” Harris said.

Minor said about a third of the same-sex couples she has married were from out of state, with Denver being the farthest.

In fact, 60 percent of the couples married in Connecticut from 2008 to 2010 lived out of state.

But for Connecticut couples, their same-sex union offers all the benefits accorded to a heterosexual marriage. Archaski said many matters, such as visitation rights at a hospital, are no longer a complication since he’s been married.

“It’s very clear when you say to someone, ‘We’re a married couple,’ they kind of know what that’s all about and what it should be,” he said.

For Natalie and Kate Phoenix, having a legal marriage helped them with the newest edition to their family, their 3-month-old daughter Olivia.

“One benefit in the whole process is that because we’re married we didn’t have to do second parent adoption,” Kate Phoenix said.

Natalie Phoenix added, “We’re both on the birth certificate.”

But because their marriage is not recognized federally, only one of them can claim Olivia as a dependent on federal taxes.

Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Initiative of Connecticut, believes same-sex marriage has proven detrimental to the state. The initiative is a nonprofit group focused on “protecting the traditional family,” whether that means fighting against divorce or same-sex marriage.

When legislation was being assembled to OK same-sex unions, the group worked to make sure religious liberties were protected, to ensure that religious groups were not penalized for their beliefs against same-sex marriage.

“We forced the legislature to pass the strongest religious liberties guarantees against same-sex marriage in the entire country,” Wolfgang said.

The law allows clergy to refuse performing a same-sex ceremony.

But Wolfgang said the law has had a wider affect. He mentioned a performance of “Zanna Don’t!” at Hartford High School last month. The play, which had an anti-bullying message, took place in a world where the majority was homosexual and the minority heterosexual.

In one scene, two boys kiss on stage, which prompted some students to walk out of the auditorium.

“This was clearly an effort in indoctrinating the kids,” he said.

According to Wolfgang, the principal of the high school said he did not believe it was necessary to alert parents of the play beforehand.

“Stuff like this never happened before Kerrigan,” Wolfgang said, later adding, “I don’t think it would have occurred to the principal to try and get away with that before Kerrigan.”

Minor sees federal approval of same-sex marriage in the future, although she predicts it’s still a few years away.

She mentioned that popular television shows such as “Glee” and “Modern Family,” which both have gay couples in leading roles, only prove that the country is becoming more accepting of homosexuality.

“‘Glee’ is on Fox,” she said. “Fox is accepting this as normal and no one is pulling ads. In fact, people are begging to get their ads on during these shows.”

Kate Phoenix believes that change will come sooner rather than later.

“Repealing ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ was significant,” she said.

She also said that when same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts, “This world didn’t end because people who are loving and committed got married.”

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