Civil unions in Colorado

Tide turns among state voters

As growing numbers of states across the country take up legislation that recognizes same-sex unions and marriages, a social sea change is under way. What was once a notion that Americans were largely uncomfortable sanctioning is becoming an increasingly unifying issue of fairness and respect. That is the right direction for the country to move, and the Colorado Legislature should contribute to the momentum by passing a measure recognizing same-sex civil unions.

Recent data collected from Public Policy Polling shows that Colorado voters are strongly supportive of civil union protections for same-sex couples – by a margin of 62 percent to 32 percent. That is a profound shift from 2006, when voters passed a ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage, either formal or common-law, in the state. While there can certainly be differences between the concepts of marriage and civil unions from religious perspectives or otherwise, the contractual obligations and benefits of each are relatively similar and extending those to all committed partnerships is an appropriate role for state government to take.

That is what Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, would do. It would extend to same-sex couples a wide range of essential rights and responsibilities enjoyed by married couples in Colorado, including the ability to adopt children, enroll in health-insurance programs, receive survivor and family-leave benefits, and be involved in medical and other essential decision-making affecting partners in the union. It would also make members of civil unions financially responsible for one another.

The measure, which has passed through two Senate committees, including the Judiciary Committee where Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, broke from her party to join Democrats in supporting it, awaits action in the full Senate. A similar measure passed that chamber in the 2011 session but was killed in the House. This year’s journey will likely prove similarly contentious, but growing public support of fairness for same-sex couples should bolster momentum for Senate Bill 2.

While the significant support indicated by the recent poll should encourage supporters of the measure, there is a less positive undercurrent in the findings: the divide between those who support same-sex unions and those who oppose it is highly partisan. While Democrats favor civil unions 83 percent to 13 percent, just 31 percent of Republicans support the practice and 61 percent oppose it. That is not necessarily surprising, given Republicans’ traditionally conservative stance on social issues. It is time, though, for same-sex unions to transcend partisanship in Colorado and across the country.

The social benefit of supporting those who enter into committed relationships are many and should appeal to the most conservative voters. Such couples, regardless of their sex, provide a foundation from which stable families and caring communities develop. Those goals are worth pursuing for countless reasons that are only positive – from the individual to the societal level.

There are signs that the partisan divide is beginning to close, though. Despite the Public Policy Polling numbers, Republicans hardly universally oppose the notion. The Colorado Republican Party is holding its convention this weekend and civil unions are on the agenda for discussion. That, along with votes like that of Roberts, indicates the topic is one in political flux, and the gains made nationally in recognizing civil unions and gay marriage suggests that depoliticizing the concept of same-sex relationships is on the horizon, albeit somewhat distantly.

In the meantime, Colorado can contribute to this positive momentum by passing Senate Bill 2.