Marriage equality is better for state than civil unions

Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet have joined a growing list of supporters of a Freedom to Marry plank in the 2012 National Democratic Platform. Both are supporting the Federal Respect for Marriage Act, which would recognize valid, state same-sex marriages for federal benefits.

Udall and Bennet have signed on as co-sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act, which will be introduced in Congress again this session. There seems a better chance it will pass this year, as several Republicans in both Houses appear poised to vote for it.

At the same time, the Colorado Legislature is facing its own internal battle over the issue of civil unions. Divided among defenders of the status quo, supporters of gay marriage and advocates of civil unions —  civil arrangements that grant same-sex couples limited rights — Democrats have proposed civil unions as a compromise that extends civil rights for gay couples, but falls short of being recognized as a legal marriage.

Gov. John Hickenlooper urged passage of a civil unions act in January. “We don’t believe we should legislate what happens inside a church or place of worship, but government should treat all people equally,” he said.

The governor failed to consider that civil ceremonies performed by judges, justices of the peace, ship’s captains and other authorized non-ministerial individuals also are marriages.

The Respect for Marriage Act requires: “For the purposes of any federal law in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be considered married if that individual’s marriage is valid in the state where the marriage was entered into.”

Since the Colorado civil unions bill says it is not a legal marriage, it seems to give with one hand, but takes with the other. It will provide gay couples with rights within the state, but still excludes them from the important federal benefits listed above.

Udall has some good advice for the Colorado Legislature, which is again gearing up to tackle civil unions. He didn’t address this comment specifically to state lawmakers, but his statement in support of the federal Respect for Marriage platform plank should apply equally in his home state.

“This is an issue the American people are ahead of us on,” he said. “It’s about time that our big-tent party make it clear in its platform that every American, regardless of sexual orientation, should have the ability to marry the person they love, to make that public promise of commitment and mutual accountability in front of their family and friends, affirming their dedication to their partner by accepting the responsibility of marriage. It is my belief that these bonds help strengthen our society.”

Like the rest of the country, Colorado voters have evolved more rapidly on the gay marriage issue than their legislators have. While the Legislature tries to pass something less than marriage for gay couples, Coloradans are rapidly coming to accept the prospect of gay marriage equality.

In December, a poll by Public Policy Polling found that 47 percent of Coloradoans “believe same-sex marriage should be legal and 43 percent think it should remain illegal.”

In a PPP poll the previous August, voters were split at 45 percent. Independents were spread 51-39.

Support for same-sex marriage by both Democrats and Republican has grown since the August poll was taken. “Colorado ... has joined the ranks of states which now favor legal marriage rights for gay couples,” the poll concludes.

As a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, Udall recognizes there is no equivalent relationship to marriage. This bill would repeal the 2006 Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from offering same-sex couples the same benefits as heterosexual couples.

These denied benefits include not only such obvious ones as Social Security survivor benefits, family and medical leave, tax advantages and family insurance, but “over 1,100 federal responsibilities and protections of marriage,” according to activist group, Freedom to Marry.

The Colorado Legislature can best serve the needs of gay and lesbian couples in our state by passing a law allowing same-sex couples to marry. Anything less, including civil unions, is to deny gays and lesbians the full right to which they are entitled as Americans.

“I don’t believe the government should be in the business of keeping a couple from entering into a lifelong bond built on love and trust,” said Bennet.

Neither should the state of Colorado.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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