Recognition of same-sex unions in Colorado
|Legal recognition of
|†Note: Not yet in effect|
Recognition of same-sex unions in the U.S. state of Colorado occurs within the framework of designated beneficiary agreements since July 1, 2009 as well as through civil unions since May 1, 2013. Same-sex marriage is banned in the constitution since 2006.
Designated beneficiary agreements grant limited rights, such as hospital and jail visitation rights, funeral arrangements, and death benefits and the right for a surviving partner to be claimed as a next of kin. Same-sex couples can also form civil unions, which provide them rights comparable to those opposite-sex married couples enjoy. The Colorado General Assembly passed legislation for civil unions in March 2013 which took effect on May 1, 2013, making Colorado the third state in which civil unions are open to opposite-sex couples, along with Hawaii and Illinois.
In 1975, the Boulder County Clerk issued marriage licenses to several same-sex couples after the local district attorney interpreted Colorado's statutes, which used the phrase "any two persons", to be gender-neutral with respect to marriage. The state attorney general issued a contrary opinion that those marriages were invalid. When one of those married in Boulder tried to use it to sponsor his husband for immigration purposes, he lost his case, Adams v. Howerton, in federal court.
Amendments to the state constitution 
On November 3, 1992, Colorado voters approved Amendment 2, which added language to the state constitution that prohibited the state and all of its subdivisions from allowing "homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships" to provide the basis for any "claim any minority status, quota preferences, protected status or claim of discrimination." In 1994, the Colorado Supreme Court found the amendment unconstitutional. In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Romer v. Evans that the amendment, because it "allows discrimination against homosexuals and prevents the state from protecting them", was "motivated by animus towards homosexuals" and violated their rights under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In November 2006, voters approved by a 55-45% margin an amendment to the state constitution that limited recognition of same-sex unions by banning same-sex marriages and common law marriages between same-sex partners. The amendment did not mention civil unions or other forms of relationships.
Colorado Domestic Partnership Benefits and Responsibilities Act of 2006 
In 2006, a voter-initiated referendum attempted to pass the Colorado Domestic Partnership Benefits and Responsibilities Act, which would have established domestic partnerships similar to a civil union, but more limited. A UCLA study of the impact domestic partnerships for same-sex couples would have on Colorado's budget concluded that allowing same-sex couples to enter into domestic partnerships under the "Colorado Domestic Partnership Benefits and Responsibilities Act" would result in a net gain of approximately $1.2 million each year for the state, resulting from savings on expenditures on state means-tested public benefits programs and from an increase in sales tax revenue from registration celebrations.
The referendum specified that a partnership is not a marriage, which "consists of the union of one man and one woman." In the November general election, the proposal was defeated by a margin of 47% for, 53% against.
Designated Beneficiary Agreements Act of 2009 
Since July 1, 2009 unmarried couples in Colorado have been able to enter a designated beneficiary agreement – similar to reciprocal beneficiary relationships in Hawaii – which grants them limited rights, including making funeral arrangements for each other, receiving death benefits, and inheriting property without a will. The law, House Bill 1260, was enacted by the legislature and is valid for estate planning, property purchases, medical decisions and certain benefits such as life-insurance and retirement-plan disbursements. It was signed by Governor Bill Ritter on April 9, 2009.
Civil unions legislation 
On February 14, 2011, Colorado State Senator Pat Steadman and State Representative Mark Ferrandino, both openly gay Democrats, introduced the Colorado Civil Union Act. It would have allowed both same-sex couples and different-sex couples to form unions. The act was co-sponsored by nearly all Democrats in the legislature. The legislation as first introduced addressed financial responsibility of partners, medical decision-making and treatment, inheritance, ability to designate a partner as retirement beneficiary, the ability to adopt the child of one's partner, insurance of partner, family leave benefits, responsibility of conservator, guardian, or personal representative. A later amendment to the bill added a religious exemption, specifying that no religious official would be required to officiate at a same-sex union ceremony.
On March 24, the Democrat-controlled Senate passed the bill on a vote of 23–12, with all Senate Democrats and 3 Senate Republicans voting in favor. The Republican-controlled House defeated it in the Judiciary Committee on a 5–6 party line vote on March 31. Ferrandino believed the legislation would have passed in the House handily citing commitments made to him by several House Republicans. Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, a known supporter of LGBT rights when he was mayor of Denver, had indicated support for same-sex civil unions.
In the state House of Representatives, Republicans held a 33–32 majority. In the Senate, lawmakers passed the civil union bill by 23–12, the same vote as in 2011, on April 27, 2012. On May 15, 2012, the bill was killed by a vote of a House committee during a special session called to deal with that topic.
Another version of the Colorado Civil Union Act was introduced on January 9, 2013. Unlike earlier versions of the legislation, it did not include language allowing adoption agencies to withhold their services from a couple in a same-sex civil union. On January 23, a Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Consitutional Committee approved the legislation with three Democrats in favor and two Republicans opposed. On February 11, the Senate Floor passed the legislation on a 21-14 vote, with all Democrats and one Republican in favor and only Republicans in opposition. The House Judiciary Committee, House Appropriations Committee and the House Consitutional Committee approved the legislation a week before the House Floor approved the legislation on March 12, 2013, by a vote of 39-26, with all Democrats and 2 Republicans voting for the bill and only Republicans in opposition. Governor John Hickenlooper signed the legislation on March 21. The Colorado Civil Union Act allows two adults to enter a civil union "regardless of the gender of either party". The law took effect on May 1, 2013.
Following the House vote, Denver's Roman Catholic Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila said that "The ability for religious-based institutions to provide foster care and adoption services for Colorado's children is now dangerously imperiled". However, Lutheran Family Services, another religious-based agency that facilitates adoptions in Colorado, said it has no plans to withdraw services from Colorado in light of the bill’s passage.
Provisions of the Civil Union Act 
In nearly all respects, the new law treats civil-union partners like married persons: "A party to a civil union has the rights, benefits, protections, duties, obligations, responsibilities, and other incidents under law as are granted to or imposed upon spouses." However, parties to a civil union are not allowed to file a joint state income tax return, and the act states in section 118: "The provisions of this article shall not be construed to create a marriage between the parties to a civil union or alter the public policy of this state, which recognizes only the union of one man and one woman as a marriage."
Public opinion 
An August 2011 Public Policy Polling survey found that Colorado voters were evenly split regarding the legalization of same-sex marriage, with 45% in support and 45% opposed, while 10% were not sure. A separate question on the same survey found that 71% of respondents supported legal recognition for same-sex couples, with 40% supporting same-sex marriage and 31% supporting civil unions, while 27% opposed all legal recognition and 2% were not sure.
A December 2011 Public Policy Polling survey found that 47% of Colorado voters supported the legalization of same-sex marriage, while 43% opposed it and 10% were not sure. A separate question on the same survey found that 76% of respondents supported legal recognition for same-sex couples, with 42% supporting same-sex marriage and 34% supporting civil unions, while 23% opposed all legal recognition and 2% were not sure.
An April 2012 Public Policy Polling survey found that 53% of Colorado voters support the legalization of same-sex marriage, while 40% oppose it and 7% is not sure. A separate question on the same survey found that 75% of respondents support legal recognition for same-sex couples, with 47% supporting same-sex marriage and 28% supporting civil unions, while 22% oppose all legal recognition and 2% is not sure.
See also 
- Eskridge, Jr., et al., William N. (2006). Gay Marriage: for Better or for Worse?: What We've Learned from the Evidence. NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 22–3.
- Leagle, Inc.: Adams v. Howerton, 486 F. Supp. 1119 (C.D.Cal.1980). Accessed July 30, 2011
- Solotoff, Lawrence (2006). Sex Discrimination and Sexual Harassment in the Work Place. NY: Law Journal Press. pp. 1–14.
- Koppelman, Andrew (2002). The Gay Rights Question in Contemporary American Law. University of Chicago Press. pp. 6ff.
- "Colorado Amendment 43, Definition of Marriage (2006)". Ballotopedia. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
- M.V. Lee Badgett, Brad Sears, Roger Lee, and Danielle MacCartney, "The Impact of the Colorado Domestic Partnership Act on Colorado's State Budget" (October 1, 2006). The Williams Institute. Paper badgett_2. http://repositories.cdlib.org/uclalaw/williams/badgett_2
- "Ritter signs bill that will help gay couples". Associated Press (The Denver Post). 2009-04-09. Retrieved 2009-04-10.
- Ingold, John (2009-04-10). "Law eases estate planning for unwed and gay couples". The Denver Post. Retrieved 2009-04-10.
- Senate Bill 11-172
- Tomasic, John (February 15, 2011). "Civil unions supporters go old school, message lawmakers with construction paper notes". Colorado Independent. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
- One Colorado. FACT SHEET: SB 172 Colorado Civil Union Act. www.OneColorado.org
- House panel kills bill on civil unions on 6-5 party-line vote
- Bartels, Lynn. "Democratic sponsors fear for fate of Colorado civil-unions bill". The Denver Post. Retrieved April 3, 2011.
- Tomosaic, John. "Hickenlooper: 'Civil rights, just like civil unions, should apply to everyone equally'". Colorado Independent. Retrieved April 3, 2011.
- Garcia, Nic (January 5, 2012). "More twists and turns as Colorado legislature wrestles with civil unions". LGBTQ Nation. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
- Stokols, Eli (April 26, 2012). "Civil unions bill passes Senate, heads to House". KDVR. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
- Frosch, Dan (March 12, 2013). "Colorado Legalizes Civil Unions for Same-Sex Couples". New York Times. Retrieved March 13, 2013.
- Moreno, Ivan (January 9, 2013). "First Colo. bills address gay rights, guns, unions". Denver Post. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
- Rittiman, Brandon (January 25, 2013). "Catholic adoption agencies vow not to serve gay couples". 9news.com. Retrieved January 29, 2013.
- Bartels, Lynn (January 24, 2013). "As expected, Senate passes Colorado civil unions bill". Denver Post. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
- "Colorado Senate Gives Final Approval To Civil Unions". CBS Denver. February 11, 2013. Retrieved February 11, 2013.
- Coffman, Keith (March 13, 2013). "Colorado lawmakers approve bill for same-sex civil unions". Reuters. Retrieved March 13, 2013.
- C.R.S 14-15-104 (a)
- Civil unions signed into law in Colorado
- Kyle, Sarah Jane (March 12, 2013). "Catholic Charities: Adoption services 'imperiled' by civil unions passage". The Coloradoan. Retrieved March 13, 2013.
- Section 14-15-107 of the Colorado Civil Union Act, SB 13-011
- Colorado favors gay marriage, marijuana use, loves Tebow
- Coloradans Support Gay Marriage
- "House Bill 09-1260" (PDF). Colorado General Assembly.
- "Senate Bill 13-011" (PDF). Colorado General Assembly.