Mesa County Clerk’s Office set as civil unions go into effect

The Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s Office is prepared if an influx of same-sex couples enter into civil unions today, the first day Colorado will recognize the legal rights of gay and lesbian couples. However, the local office did not open at midnight, as was the plan for offices in Denver and Boulder.

Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner said she’s heard that possibly 10 to 15 couples plan to enter into civil unions today.

“If it turns out to be 10 to 15 couples, we can handle them at the counter,” Reiner said. “If a line forms, we have people trained to do the documents at the election counters. We have a contingency plan.”

Heidi Jeanne Hess said she doesn’t know any same-sex couples who plan to head to the Mesa County Central Services facility today to obtain a certificate.

Hess, the Western Slope field organizer for One Colorado, said the group has a party planned anyway. The public is invited to celebrate from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Center for Independence, 730 Gunnison Ave. Tonight’s celebration will include refreshments, music and a question and answer session for same-sex couples to learn how civil unions can benefit them. Two ministers who perform ceremonies will be present.

“I do know people are planning ceremonies, but not for tomorrow,” Hess said on Tuesday. “They want a chance to plan receptions with friends and families.”

Hess said “if we’re all wrong and surprised,” and an abundance of couples do enter into civil unions today, “I’ll be rushing out there to give out coffee and donuts.”

Hess said she and her partner have planned their ceremony for September. Passage of the law means Hess won’t have to haul reams of legal papers in her car and on her phone to ensure that her partner is protected in the event that something happens to her.

The two share a home, and having the documentation means her partner can inherit it.

“There really is something to having just one document,” Hess said. “It’s important to us because there are so many things that can go wrong.”

Benefits of Colorado’s civil union law include partners being able to adopt children, insure each other, become eligible for family leave benefits, receive benefits if one dies, visit one another in the hospital and hold power of attorney, according to One Colorado.

Colorado was the sixth state to legalize civil unions after Gov. John Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 11 into law on March 21. The law goes into effect today.

Civil unions already are legal in Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Illinois. Nine states have sex-same marriage laws: Vermont, Connecticut, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Iowa, Washington and the District of Columbia.

Rhode Island lawmakers were scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to make their state the 10th to allow same-sex marriage.



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