In Colorado, Supreme Court decision gets muted response

As many celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, some Coloradans hesitated to cry victory.

“I was very happy until I realized (the rulings) would not have as big of an impact on me since I live in Colorado,” Durangoan Wendy Haugen said Wednesday.

Colorado in March passed legislation approving civil unions, not same-sex marriage. Couples joined in a civil union can’t access federal benefits such as Social Security survivor benefits.

“We still lack federal safeguards that are available to same-sex couples in other states,” said Brad Clark, executive director of One Colorado, an advocate of gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

Colorado’s civil-union law went into effect May 1. Civil unions allow same-sex spouses access to state-level benefits, including the ability to visit a partner in the hospital or insure him or her.

The current ban on same-sex marriage prohibits Haugen from filing taxes jointly with her partner, Colleen Dunseth. Thus, they cannot receive similar tax deductions and exemptions as do married couples. That can cause problems for same-sex couples when one spouse is financially dependent on the other, as Dunseth is with Haugen.

Haugen and Dunseth met two years ago online and decided to get married soon after.

“I told my mother that we wanted to get married, and she laughed at me,” Haugen said. “I’m not sure if that’s because same-sex marriage wasn’t legal then or because we had only been dating for a few months.”

They got engaged last November but have decided to hold off the wedding until their marriage can be formally recognized by the state.

“If it was possible to get married in the state of California and come back to Colorado and have (the state) recognize our marriage, that would make such a difference,” Haugen said.

Clark compared America to a “patchwork of protection” with the various state laws on same-sex marriage.

“It’s interesting that people’s relationship status can change on the drive to work,” he said, using the example of commuting from Iowa, which permits same-sex marriage, to Nebraska, which does not.

Paige Jones is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. Reach her at