Revisiting civil unions

It is time to move past fear and partisan rhetoric

As the Colorado Legislature convenes Wednesday, lawmakers will once again be asked to vote on a package of legal rights known as “civil unions.” This is a hot-button issue because civil unions award legal status to same-sex couples.

The legislation would codify the ability to be involved in a partner’s medical decisions, including end-of-life issues, enhance inheritance and parental rights and make acquiring health insurance coverage easier.

Last year, the Democrat-controlled state Senate approved a similar measure, which the GOP blocked in a House committee. This year, the General Assembly should – but probably will not – get it done.

Opposition is not universal among Republicans. State Sen. Ellen Roberts, a Durango Republican, voted for last year’s bill and supports this year’s, for the right reasons. Many legislators believe a civil-union bill could forestall a push for same-sex marriage, which faces far more visceral opposition.

They also realize that most of their constituents favor civil unions.

Polling last year showed that as many as 70 percent of Coloradans approve, a majority that includes not only those who believe same-sex marriage should be legalized but others who, although they adhere to a traditional definition of marriage, believe that individuals and society would benefit from civil unions.

That makes sense, for many reasons.

Those who believe marriage is a good thing value its stabilizing influence.

Healthy long-term partnerships can provide many benefits, and not the least of them is the dependable presence of two loving adults committed to ensuring the welfare of their children. Why not encourage that by allowing such commitments to be formalized? The person best equipped to make difficult decision on behalf of an incapacitated partner is the person who knows that patient best. Many people talk to children about organ donation.

Many discuss with friends the life-prolonging treatments they might want to utilize, or to avoid. Nonetheless, that is not the same thing as stating, explicitly, “I trust you to make those decisions for me.” It is not even close. Surely every human being has a right to designate a decision-maker without involving an attorney and a judge, and without fearing that disapproving family members may have more legal weight than one’s own choice.

The issue of inheritance rights is a similar one. When two people build a life together, the surviving member of that partnership deserves to inherit the results of their hard work without facing a challenge that would not stand if the couple had been able to marry.

This issue really is not all about sex, despite efforts to make it so. Hardly anyone believes that anything the Legislature does will influence Coloradans’ choice of partners, except, perhaps, by influencing their decision to live here through the state’s hospitality or lack thereof.

Nor is it the first step toward polygamy or the right to marry one’s pet (neither of which is there any effort to legalize). In fact, it is necessary precisely because the former legal limits have been effective in restricting legal rights. The new limits would hold as well.

Simply put, this is a human-rights issue, and it is one that most Coloradans understand. In a year when voters are growing increasingly weary of having every issue freighted with an entire partisan political agenda, this is an opportunity to do the right thing for the residents of Colorado.