The legislation introduced in the Colorado Senate on Valentine’s Day, to offer legal status to civil unions between members of the same sex, has numerous cosponsors in the House and Senate. All of them are Democrats.
Republicans in the Legislature seem to have adopted a more fearful approach, arguing that the bill is an attack on traditional marriage. Some people may also see it as an attack on religion. It is neither.
In fact, one of the most important aspects of Senate Bill 172 is that it puts some separation between religiously sanctioned marriage and state-authorized civil unions.
Early on, the legislation states, “A priest, minister, rabbi, or other official of a religious institution or denomination or an Indian nation or tribe is not required to certify a civil union in violation of his or her right to free exercise of religion.”
That’s sensible. In fact, in our ideal world, the state would only certify legal arrangements between consenting adults who want to share their lives and their assets. Those who want the additional blessing of a religiously sanctioned marriage could go to the religious organization of their choice to obtain it. There would be no entanglement of religion and government.
For now, we have a different system in place. Colorado, like most other states, sets the requirements for marriage, whether religious or civil. Just four years ago, Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
Senate Bill 172 doesn’t attempt to change that, despite what some of its critics claim. Instead, it establishes a long list of legal protections for those who voluntarily enter into civil unions, the same sort of rights and protections that married heterosexual couples now have. Among the most important are:
✔ Rights and abilities to transfer real or personal property to a party in a civil union;
✔ The ability to file a claim based on wrongful death or emotional distress for the loss of a partner in a civil union;
✔ The ability to inherit real and personal property from a partner;
✔ Survivor benefits under and inclusion in workers’ compensation laws;
✔ The ability to adopt a child of a civil union partner;
✔ Protections and coverage under domestic abuse and domestic violence laws.
SB 172 also would establish a system for legal dissolution of a civil union, much like divorce proceedings for married couples.
All of these are reasonable legal protections for people who are in committed, long-term relationships with members of the same sex. And surveys show the majority of Coloradans support them – even more now than just a few years ago.
House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, used the slippery slope argument in opposing the measure last week. She told The Denver Post her concern is that if civil unions are approved, it won’t be enough, and gay-rights advocates will soon seek approval for gay marriage.
Some may indeed seek that, but with the constitutional amendment passed in 2006, it will be difficult to accomplish, and Colorado leaders of gay-rights organizations recognize that.
If fact, it’s far more likely there will be a push to authorize gay marriage if Colorado refuses to offer same-sex couples the sort of common-sense legal protections that are included in SB 172.