After an intense two-week effort by the Knights of Columbus and other organizations, the Connecticut legislature adopted a religious liberty amendment to Bill 899, which implements last year’s state Supreme Court decision that imposes same-sex marriage in the state. The amended measure was then passed by both houses of the legislature on April 22.
Working with the Connecticut Catholic Conference, the Family Institute of Connecticut and the National Organization for Marriage, the Knights of Columbus participated in a public awareness campaign that ultimately generated more than 17,000 e-mails and letters to legislators, and thousands more phone calls. Legislators were overwhelmed by expressions of opposition to the bill, which had been voted out of the Judiciary Committee with virtually no religious freedom language at all.
The Knights of Columbus also commissioned a poll of Connecticut voters conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, which showed that large majorities were less likely to support such a bill if it lacked protections for First Amendment religious freedoms. The Order also placed several newspaper ads in papers around the state calling readers’ attention to the issue, and a special Web site enabled citizens to communicate their opposition to the bill directly to their local legislators. Letters from the bishops of Connecticut were read from the pulpit during Masses on the Sunday before the measure was brought up for consideration.
On Wednesday, supporters of the bill agreed to include an amendment that would provide religious liberty protections that the committee bill lacked. Based in part on an amendment adopted by the Vermont legislature a few weeks earlier, it was approved in the Senate 33-2 and by the House 143-0.
While not as strong an amendment as we would have preferred, it represents a significant step toward recognizing the need to ensure that First Amendment religious freedoms, which are specifically enumerated in the Bill of Rights and date back to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, are weighed properly in states where court-ordered same-sex marriage forecloses a decision by the electorate, or where, as in Vermont, a legislature makes the decision.