Booze on Sunday in Connecticut!

State 'blue law' struck down

Good news for Connecticut residents: the state "blue laws" were struck down.

Buy wine, beer, or spirits at a retail store on Sunday? Sure, why not? Because, if you were a resident of the state of Connecticut, until this Sunday, May 20, 2012, such a purchase would have been impossible. All over the country, so-called "blue laws" (more on that below) used to ban the purveying of alcohol on the Lord's Day (and often on other religious or secular holidays as well). As recently as 2006, even cosmopolitan New York State decreed that you couldn't buy so much as a glass of chardonnay with your quiche on Sundays until noon (this took a lot of fun out of an early brunch), and forbade retail sales of alcohol completely on that day. The same strictures still hold true in Texas. Counties around the country often impose their own blue laws.

Residents of Connecticut have either had to plan their liquor purchases ahead of time or cross the border to (depending on which part of the state you lived in) Rhode Island, Massachusetts (since 2004), or New York (since 2006) to buy a bottle or two. All that has now changed. Responding to commercial pressures and probably also to the sense that his bailiwick had fallen behind the times, the Nutmeg State's governor, Dannel P. Malloy, this week signed a bill that would permit Connecticut retailers to sell wine, beer, and spirits on Sundays between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Only Indiana now still totally bans Sunday sales. (Of course, Connecticut permits only licensed liquor stores to sell wine and spirits; supermarkets and convenience stores can sell only beer.)

As the people of Connecticut celebrate, as they doubtless will, with a good stiff one or three this weekend, it might be amusing for them to remember that their state was in fact responsible for the whole idea of blue laws to begin with. Strictly speaking, blue laws don't cover only alcoholic matters; they regulate what may or may not be sold (or done) on Sundays. Thus, for instance, Minnesota decrees that car dealerships must be closed that day; Pennsylvania prohibits hunting, unless your prey is fox, crow, or coyote. And the original "Connecticut Blue Laws" hardly mention booze at all. These were said to have been propagated by Governor Theophilus Eaton in 1655, for the Colony of New Haven, before there was a United States for Connecticut to be a part of. Among the 45 provisions included were "No food or lodging shall be afforded to a Quaker, Adamite, or other Heretic;" "No one to cross a river, but with an authorized ferryman;" "No one shall travel, cook victuals, make beds, sweep house, cut hair, or shave, on the Sabbath day;" "No woman shall kiss her child on the Sabbath or fasting day;" "Married persons must live together, or be imprisoned;" and "Every male shall have his hair cut round according to a cap."

Pour another glass, because the truth is that these laws never existed. They were a hoax, perpetrated in the late 18th century by a clergyman named Reverend Samuel Peters, a wealthy Anglican who had fled his native America during the Revolutionary War, and who concocted the blue laws in an apparent attempt to make Connecticut society seem fanatical and backward. Which, well, it sort of did until Governor Malloy signed that bill.