Time has come to allow civil unions

Gov. John Hickenlooper raised a few eyebrows in his State of the State speech last week when he strongly urged state lawmakers to approve legislation authorizing civil unions between gays and lesbians.

But Hickenlooper was absolutely on target. Colorado should pass a civil-unions law, not to advance the agenda of any particular group, but because it is the right thing to do.

As Hickenlooper put it last Thursday, “We don’t believe we should legislate what happens inside a church or place of worship, but government should treat all people equally.”

As it is now, people in committed homosexual relationships don’t have the same rights and opportunities as heterosexuals when it comes to things like making medical decisions for an incapacitated partner, sharing medical and retirement benefits and inheriting property from a partner if there isn’t a recorded will.

A bill already introduced in the Legislature this year is identical to one that passed the Senate last year but stalled in the House. It would authorize those sorts of rights and benefits for people who legally join with their partners through civil unions.

The legislation also attempts to separate civil unions from religiously sanctioned marriage, and we believe that makes sense, especially since Coloradans six years ago passed a constitutional amendment declaring that marriage is a union between one woman and one man.

But Coloradans are discerning enough to recognize that there are other types of relationships that deserve recognition and protection, which is why polls in this state have showed increasing public support for civil unions since the passage of the marriage definition in 2006.

Logically, the most appropriate course may be for the state to get out of the business of sanctioning marriage altogether. It could accept civil-union agreements, whether they be between heterosexuals or homosexuals. They would amount to a publicly recognized contract between two people, which would legitimize their union and benefits shared between the two.

But couples who want something more — a religiously sanctioned marriage or “holy matrimony” — could go to their church or other religious organization for such approval, free from any state interference or oversight.

We’re not sure that Coloradans are ready for that sort of process, yet. But we do think the majority of Coloradans are ready to accept civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. There may not be enough Republican votes in the Legislature to get the bill passed, but it will eventually be adopted in Colorado and other states.


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