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Catholic Bishops Urge 'Yes' Vote On Constitutional Convention

By CHRISTOPHER KEATING

October 11, 2008

The state Supreme Court's historic ruling legalizing gay marriage Friday has prompted the state's Roman Catholic bishops to call on Catholics to vote "yes" on a key ballot initiative Nov. 4.

The question of whether the state should hold a constitutional convention had been a low-key issue until the court's ruling ignited opponents of gay marriage.

The question on the ballot next month should the state hold a constitutional convention? is simple. Proponents believe that a constitutional convention could lead to "direct initiative" in the form of a statewide referendum that could give all voters the chance to decide directly whether the state should ban gay marriage.

But proponents and opponents said Friday that a "yes" vote would be only the first step in a long process that might, in fact, never lead to a vote on gay marriage.

If the convention were held, the legislature where Democrats hold nearly two-thirds of all seats would decide who becomes a delegate. Two-thirds of both chambers would need to agree on the list of delegates, who would then decide which issues would be discussed at the convention. It is uncertain whether they would agree that gay marriage should be brought up.

"If we get this 'yes' vote on Nov. 4, then that's just the first victory in about a three- or four-stage-long battle that will stretch over the space of a couple of years," said Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut. Wolfgang is a social conservative who opposes gay marriage and favors holding the convention to establish direct initiative.

Wolfgang said the statement by the six Catholic bishops representing the Archdiocese of Hartford, the dioceses of Bridgeport and Norwich, and the Ukrainian Catholic Diocese of Stamford was the biggest development of the day after the court ruling itself.

Connecticut is one of the most Catholic states in the nation, according to a 2004 Gallup Poll that said 46 percent of residents were Catholic.

In a detailed statement, the bishops said they were "extremely disappointed" in Friday's 4-3 ruling.

"The Supreme Court of Connecticut has chosen to ignore the wisdom of our elected officials, the will of the people, and historical social and religious traditions spanning thousands of years by imposing a social experiment upon the people of our state," they said. "The decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court also raises a very real concern about the infringement on religious liberty and freedom of speech with the judicial imposition of same-sex marriage."

Even before Friday's ruling, some groups on both sides of the ballot question had started to take positions. Besides the bishops, those favoring the constitutional convention include GOP Gov. M. Jodi Rell, the Family Institute, taxpayer groups and those concerned about the abuse of eminent domain by the government.

Those opposed to the convention include Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, Treasurer Denise Nappier and Comptroller Nancy Wyman, all Democrats. Also, the American Civil Liberties Union and Love Makes A Family, which has pushed for gay marriage for years.

Anne Stanback, Love Makes a Family's executive director, said the question of the constitutional convention is placed on the ballot every 20 years and is far broader than the issue of marriage equality. She called the Family Institute the chief proponent of the convention "a right-wing, anti-gay organization."

But Wolfgang said he was happy that voters will get their chance on Nov. 4.

"It's been a deliberate strategy of the Family Institute to goad the court into releasing the decision before Election Day," Wolfgang said. "This is one of the few silver linings of today's news."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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