Same-sex civil unions legal in Colorado

DENVER — Colorado joined a growing list of states Thursday in extending some form of marriage to same-sex couples.

That happened when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 11 into law before a cheering crowd at the newly built History Colorado Center near downtown Denver.

“The gay and lesbian, the transgender and bisexual community is part of all of us, part of our communities, part of our lives,” Hickenlooper told the crowd moments before signing the bill into law. “There is no excuse that people shouldn’t have all the same rights.”

The two main sponsors of the bill, Sen. Pat Steadman and House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, Denver Democrats who both are gay, said the bill signing was a long time coming.

It made Colorado one of 18 states, not counting the District of Columbia, that extends civil unions, domestic partnerships or full-fledge marriage to same-sex couples.

“When we began this journey for civil unions just two years ago, I kept saying it wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when,” Ferrandino said. “That ‘when’ just took a little longer.”

Ferrandino had hoped to see the measure pass during last year’s legislative session, but that effort was blocked when the then GOP-controlled House prevented a vote on a similar bill that already cleared the Colorado Senate.

As a result, this year’s measure is broader. Unlike last year’s bill, the new law now doesn’t allow anyone, including religious groups, to discriminate against same-sex couples by denying them the same services they provide to heterosexual ones.

The only exemption in the bill is it doesn’t require reverends, priests, rabbis or any other religious leader to perform a same-sex ceremony.

Republicans repeatedly tried to add religious organizations and anyone who objected on deep religious grounds to that list of exemptions, but Steadman and Ferrandino said that just opened the door to more discrimination.

The two men said that while getting civil unions in Colorado is a milestone, it isn’t the end of the battle.

In time, they hope the state and the nation ultimately will recognize full marriage for gays and lesbians.

“This is a movement and we are achieving a significant milestone,” Steadman said. “We know this is not the final destination.”

The rights and responsibilities granted to same-sex couples under the new law include such things as:

■ The ability to file a claim for wrongful death;

■ Imposing prohibitions against discrimination based on spousal status;

■ Granting access to the same probate laws as married couples in dealing with estates and inheritance and child custody cases;

■ Receiving unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation survivor benefits;

■ Being paid survivor benefits under local government pension plans; and

■ Designating a civil union partner as a beneficiary under the Public Employees Retirement Program.

The new law also outlines procedures for dissolving a civil union that is much like a divorce, including contesting it in court.



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