HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – After receiving their civil union license Saturday, Lidia Agramonte and Maria Gomez had all the same rights as a married couple in Connecticut. But they couldn’t find words to describe their union.

“The hardest thing is, what do you call yourself, civilized?” said Agramonte, 47, a social worker from New Britain. “There are no words for it yet.”

The women were the first in line at Hartford City Hall as a new law allowing same-sex civil unions took effect. City halls in Hartford, Stamford, New Haven and a half-dozen small towns held special weekend hours to issue certificates to couples who said they waited for years to be legally recognized.

Connecticut became the first state to legalize civil unions without being forced by the courts after lawmakers passed a law endorsing the unions in April. Massachusetts allows gay marriages and Vermont recognizes civil unions because of lawsuits.

“This is a historic day. We’re beyond ecstatic,” said Randy Sharp, 46, of Plainville, who obtained a license with his partner, Jeff Blanchette, 44. They planned an afternoon ceremony followed by a reception for about 50 people at a friend’s house.

The law affords all the legal rights of marriage – such as spousal health care benefits – to same-sex couples, but defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Heterosexual couples cannot get civil unions. The license application is identical to one for marriage, except “bride” and “groom” are replaced with “party 1” and “party 2.”

The 2000 U.S. Census found about 7,400 same-sex couples in Connecticut, but no one was tracking how many applied for licenses Saturday. The day passed with few reports of protests, except for a rally at the Capitol sponsored by the Family Institute of Connecticut. It drew about 50 people.

“Oct. 1 is a tragic day because it’s the first day a law goes into effect that states a legislative belief that children don’t need both a mom and a dad,” said Peter Wolfgang, the director of public policy for the institute.

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