Connecticut’s Supreme Court has denied a conservative group’s request to intervene in a lawsuit over whether gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry in the North Eastern state.

According to The Associated Press, the court decision upholds a lower court’s ruling denying the Family Institute of Connecticut’s motion to intervene in the case.

Eight gay couples are challenging the constitutionality of the state’s marriage laws. That case is pending.

Connecticut became the second state in the nation, after Vermont, to allow civil unions. In 2005, the Democrat-controlled legislature passed, and Republican Governor Jodi Rell signed into law, a bill legalising civil unions but defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Eight couples sued the state, claiming civil unions are an inferior status and violate their constitutional rights to equal protection, due process and free expression and association.

The plaintiffs sought a court injunction compelling the state to grant each couple a marriage license rather than a civil union license, which the judge denied.

The AP reports that the couples say the laws are unconstitutional because they treat gay and heterosexual couples differently. The Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), a group involved in the case, used a similar argument to win gay marriage in Massachusetts.

In Connecticut, a lower court judge ruled last month that gay and lesbian couples have not been harmed by the state’s decision to legalize same-sex civil unions rather than grant full marriage rights. GLAD has appealed that decision.

The Family Institute wanted legal standing in the case to present evidence that it says shows children are hurt by living in gay and lesbian homes. They also argued that Attorney General Richard Blumenthal was not defending the state’s marriage laws aggressively enough.

Connecticut recently became the first state to offer civil unions without a court order, but GLAD and the couples involved in the lawsuit argue that civil unions are not equal to full marriage.

Mary Bonauto, an attorney for GLAD, told the AP that the court’s decision provides “a very helpful reality check” that the Family Institute and heterosexual couples would not be harmed by the plaintiffs’ quest for the right to marry.

“Obviously we’re pleased by the decision,” she said. “There was no reason for an anti-gay group to become part of the case to make its arguments.”

Peter Wolfgang, director of public policy at the Hartford-based institute, told the AP that the decision strengthens their resolve to seek a referendum on a proposal to change the state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and woman.

“We believe strongly that this court ruling proves this decision ought to be left to the citizens of Connecticut,” Mr Wolfgang said. “We’re disappointed we didn’t win. We think the Supreme Court made the wrong decision and should have followed the good example set by New York’s highest court.”

Last month, the New York Court of Appeals — the state’s top court — ruled 4-2 that the law limiting marriage a man and a woman was constitutional. The court said it was up to lawmakers to change the law.

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