Bill would end racial designations on marriage licenses

Photo of Ken Dixon

HARTFORD — Marriage licenses would no longer require information on the race of people under legislation unanimously approved Tuesday by the House of Representatives.

The bill, which passed 146-0 after a brief debate, next heads to the state Senate.

“I don’t believe that one’s race should be recorded with respect to a marriage license,” said Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, said that in recent years he became aware of the section on marriage licenses for racial designations. “I find that this requirement that someone declare their race in order to marry is offensive,” he said. “Two loving people get together and want to join themselves in a legal ceremony, they should not be barred because they fail to disclose their race. If anything, it prevents people who love each other from doing that.”

It would also codify outdated racially restrictive covenants on property deeds that for decades have been overruled by legal precedent, but remain offensive and are historic reminders of efforts to keep Blacks out of white neighborhoods.

The bill would allow property owners to go to their local city and town halls and record on the land records the removal of the wording from deeds. It would also allow condominium associations to remove restrictive covenants from their association bylaws.

“I was appalled that certain things appear in our land records, such overt racial statements,” Fishbein said. “To preclude the transfer of land based on someone’s skin color or ancestry, this is a good step forward.”

State Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, said he’s grateful that lawmakers are finally getting around to deleting remnants of systematic racism that persists in the state. “These are the things that we need to rid our community of,” he said.

In other action scheduled for a long evening, the House scheduled action to extend Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency authority until July 20. It is currently set to end on May 20, the day after the state’s restaurants and other businesses will be allowed to fully open.

During the late afternoon, the House debated a proposed amendment to the state Constitution to allowed no-excuse mail-in ballots for elections. Prior to provisions adopted last year and extended this year, allowing absentee ballots by all voters, the Constitution limited mail-in voters only to those being absent from the state on Election day; are sicks; claim physical disability, or religious restrictions.

Republican opposition, however, was mostly unified against the measure, which would require 75-percent approval in the House and Senate this year to get the issue on the statewide ballot for voters in 2022. Otherwise, simple majorities would force the issue to be voted upon in the General Assembly elected in 2022, delaying the possibility of the question coming before voters in 2024.

Republicans led by Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott, offered amendments that would require voters to present photo IDs to vote; and require verified signatures for all absentee ballots. “It’s apathy that we need to fight,” said Rep. David Labriola, R-Oxford.

Democrats, who have a 97-54 majority in the House, rejected the amendments in 93-53 and 95-53 votes, respectively. Republicans around the country have introduced similar bills in the wake of the loss of President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

“It’s sad for the voters of the state of Connecticut,” Mastrofrancesco said after the second amendment failed. “We’re doing this to protect their vote.”

“We’re getting the impression that people are cheating,” said Rep. David Rutigliano, R-Trumbull, who got an absentee ballot application at his home last year for someone who formerly lived there and who appears to have never voted there.

Rep. Geraldo Reyes, D-Waterbury, chairman of the legislative Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, said the state needs to make it easier for people to cast ballots. There was record turnout for the 2020 election in the state, when no-excuse absentee ballots were used because of the pandemic. “Constitutions were made to be amended,” he said.

Shortly after 6 o’clock, Rep. Jason Perillo, R-Shelton, introduced an amendment that would change the way contested elections would be settled, shifting the authority to the Judicial Branch from the legislature. It was based on a 2018 election for a seat representing Stratford, where 76 voters in a dual district, received the wrong ballot and an evenly divided legislative committee deadlocked over Democratic Rep. Phil Young, who was reelected in 2020. Republicans complained that majority Democratic leaders stonewalled a request for another special election in 2019.

Perillo’s amendment was rejected 95-53, as was a subsequent proposal to create a bipartisan commission to draft future election laws.

After more than four hours of debate, the resolution passed 104-44 and next heads to the Senate, where it is expected to pass. Nine Republicans joined Democrats, including Rep. Laura Devlin of Fairfield, Rep. Terrie Wood of Darien, Rep. Tom O’Dea of New Canaan and Rep. Joseph Zullo of East Haven.

But because the 75 percent wasn’t reached, it would have to come before the next legislature, for eventual inclusion on the 2024 statewide ballot.

House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, said the bill would allow state voters to join 34 other states that have mail-in voting. It’s a companion piece to an early voting amendment to the Constitution that recently passed the House and is pending in the Senate.

Rojas said the pandemic has underscored the advantages of mail-in balloting.

“I think they deserve the choice,” Rojas said, stressing that fraud is rare among state voters. “We should take comfort in knowing that what we’re doing today is moving the state in a positive direction. It’s empowering our citizens to vote for themselves.”

kdixon@ctpost.com Twitter: @KenDixonCT