Attorney General's Opinion
Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal
August 2, 2006
The Honorable Nancy Wyman
State of Connecticut
55 Elm STreet
Hartford, CT 06106
Dear Ms. Wyman:
This letter is in response to a request from Karen McDonough, Division Counsel for the Office of the Comptroller’s Retirement and Benefit Services Division, for a legal opinion as to whether the State of Connecticut will recognize a same-sex domestic partnership entered in Seattle, Washington, by a retired Connecticut state employee.
I understand from telephone conversations between my office and Ms. McDonough that the employee, Mr. S., terminated his Connecticut state service on December 13, 1990. On December 23, 1996, he and another man registered as domestic partners pursuant to the City of Seattle’s Ordinance No. 117244. The Ordinance establishes a program whereby two individuals, who need not be of the same sex, may register as domestic partners provided: neither of them is married; they are in a relationship of mutual support, caring, and commitment, they are each eighteen years of age or older; they are not related by blood closer than would bar marriage in the State of Washington; and they are each other’s sole domestic partner. On March 1, 2006, Mr. S. became eligible for retirement. He would like to add his partner to his Connecticut retiree health insurance plan, but because he terminated his state service prior to Connecticut’s Domestic Partners Interest Arbitration Award, which took effect in March, 2000, Ms. McDonough states that he is not eligible for benefits pursuant to that Award. As a result, he may not obtain retiree health insurance benefits for his partner simply by signing a Connecticut Domestic Partnership Affidavit. Ms. McDonough states that he would be entitled to such benefits, however, if he were a party to a valid Connecticut civil union or similar out-of-state same-sex partnership that is recognized by Connecticut. Accordingly, you ask whether Connecticut will recognize Mr. S’s domestic partnership registration as equivalent to a Connecticut civil union.
I conclude that a Connecticut court, if faced with the issue, would very likely decline to recognize Mr. S’s domestic partnership as equivalent to a Connecticut civil union. This conclusion is inescapable because the Full Faith and Credit Clause does not require a State to recognize another State’s municipal ordinances. Even if it did, Connecticut would be unlikely to recognize Seattle’s Ordinance because the Ordinance confers none of the rights, benefits, or obligations conferred by a Connecticut civil union. Consequently, assuming that Mr. S and his partner are not involved in a civil union or marriage elsewhere, and are not related by certain degrees of kinship, they may seek a civil union in Connecticut, with all its rights and benefits. See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-38bb (2006 Supplement).
As you are aware, on September 20, 2005, I issued a formal legal opinion concluding that Connecticut courts will likely recognize civil unions entered into in Vermont and domestic partnerships entered into in California, but will not recognize same-sex marriages entered into in Massachusetts. Conn. Op. Atty Gen. No. 2005-024, 2005 Conn. AG Lexis 23 (Sept. 20, 2005). I reached this conclusion based on the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution, which provides, in pertinent part, that “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records and judicial Proceedings of every other State.” U.S. Const., Art. 4, § 1. As interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Full Faith and Credit Clause requires each State to recognize the laws of the other States, but “does not require a State to apply another State’s law in violation of its own legitimate public policy.” Nevada v. Hall, 440 U.S. 410, 424 (1979). Because Connecticut’s public policy does not permit same-sex marriages within the State, I concluded that Connecticut would not recognize same-sex marriages entered into in Massachusetts or any other State. I further concluded that Connecticut would likely recognize civil unions entered into in Vermont, and domestic partnerships entered into in California, because the laws in those States were substantially similar to Connecticut’s civil union law and did not violate Connecticut’s public policy.
In the present case, the Full Faith and Credit Clause is inapplicable because, by its express terms, it only requires States to recognize the laws “of every other State.” U.S. Const., Art. 4, § 1 (emphasis added). Accordingly, Connecticut has no constitutional obligation to give full faith and credit to a municipal ordinance, Ropico, Inc. v. City of New York, 425 F. Supp. 970, 978 (S.D.N.Y. 1976), and therefore need not recognize a domestic partnership entered into pursuant to Seattle Ordinance No. 117244.
Additionally, Ordinance No. 117244 differs substantially from Connecticut law. Unlike a Connecticut civil union, which confers on the parties all of the “benefits, protections and responsibilities under [state] law, . . . as are granted to spouses in a marriage,” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-38nn (2006 Supp.), Seattle Ordinance No. 117244 states in its preamble that it “is not intended to create any new or different legal rights or responsibilities, or to itself create or evidence any contractual relationship or obligation between the individuals who participate in the registration program.” The Registration of Domestic Partnership form that Mr. S. signed similarly explicitly states that the parties “understand that the Registration of Domestic Partnership does not afford our relationship any new or different legal status,” does not “create any new or different legal rights or responsibilities,” and does not “establish or evidence any contractual relationship or contractual obligations between us.” Thus, a Seattle domestic partnership is solely a means by which two individuals may publicly acknowledge their commitment to each other. Because it confers none of the rights, benefits or responsibilities of marriage on the individuals involved, it differs substantially from a Connecticut civil union. Accordingly, I conclude that a Connecticut court, if faced with the issue, would be very unlikely to recognize Mr. S’s Seattle domestic partnership as equivalent to a Connecticut civil union.
Very truly yours,
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