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The Civil Union Law — Understanding the fine print

On March 12th the Colorado General Assembly passed a bill that will allow any two unmarried adults, regardless of gender, to obtain a civil union and full access to the same legal benefits, responsibilities, and protections that are awarded to spouses in a traditional “marriage”. The bill, entitled The Colorado Civil Unions Act (SB-11), was passed by the House with a vote of 39-26 and was signed into law by Governor Hicklenlooper on March 21st. While many reports of this new development share the opinions of politicians and the sentiments of those who have worked hard for this victory, few explain the actual details of the bill.

The most up-to-date version of SB-11 is 42 pages long and explains at great length (and a wealth of legal jargon) everything lawmakers need to know about implementing this new piece of legislation. Couples who choose to enter into a civil union will have access to over twenty-five specific legal rights, and many people may not have any idea what they’re entitled to. For example, without a civil union, a person would not have the legal right to see his/her spouse in the hospital if he/she was fatally injured. That person would also lack the right to visit his/her spouse a correctional facility, jail, or private contract prison, or even in a facility providing mental health treatment.

Much of what couples will have access to concerns financial, property, medical, and insurance rights. However, this new bill will also allow spouses to adopt each other’s children and protect individuals from “discrimination based upon spousal status”. For many the passage of this bill is a time of joy, but it is unlikely that every couple that receives a civil union will have a perfectly healthy and abuse-free relationship. Luckily, this bill also includes clauses that provide individuals in a union with “protections and coverage under domestic abuse and domestic violence laws rights”, and “protections under victims’ compensation laws and victims and witness protection laws”. And should a couple decide to end a civil union, they would have the capability to terminate their legal connection in the same manner as a married couple that is seeking a divorce.

So, now that the bill has been passed and Governor Hicklenlooper has signed it into law, starting on May 1st any two unmarried adults wishing to acquire a civil union must simply apply at the office of a county clerk & recorder. Once it has been certified, the magistrate or judge returns it to the county clerk & recorder so that it can be officially registered. While many couples may wish to have a spiritual or religious ceremony to celebrate their unifications, no officials of a religious institution (such as a priest or a rabbi) are required by law to certify civil unions. The reason for this clause is because the authors of the bill felt that it could be viewed a violation of those leaders’ religious rights if they were legally required to do so. Couples can certainly arrange to have some type of religious ceremony or exchange of vows, but it is up to them to secure an officiant that is in full awareness of his/her rights as a faith leader.

Although there are many people and politicians who are in full support of SB-11, naturally there are those who voice their objections to it. Most of the primary arguments against it are religious in nature; politicians are concerned that there are no sanctions protecting businesses and adoption agencies from having to abide by the bill. And even though there is a specific section defining marriage as between a man and a woman, opponents believe it will detract from the traditional institution of marriage. As May 1st approaches, there are bound to be people who do not support this law or still think that it is not good enough for same-sex couples; but Colorado joins a list of other states to offer rights, once exclusionary, to same-sex couples.

by Morgan Dysinger