The right to marry is on the forefront for many gay and lesbian couples living in Colorado, and although beneficiary agreements known as “civil unions” have made strides to recognize domestic partnerships, state gay-rights organization OneColorado is working to achieve the next level – full marriage equality.
Daniel Ramos, director of organization and alliance building for OneColorado, spoke to about 30 people from the Durango area at Durango Public Library on Saturday, to educate them about how Colorado can join the 14 current states that recognize same-sex marriage. OneColorado is the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group, Ramos said.
Civil unions are legal agreements that assure same-sex couples access to most benefits of marriage, such as inheritance, funeral arrangements, medical decision-making and retirement benefits. Civil unions stop short, however, of allowing couples to file joint state tax returns and reap the tax benefits of marriage, and many residents say they feel left out in the cold.
Ramos was traveling throughout Colorado, getting the public involved at a series of town-hall-style meetings called “Pathway to Marriage.”
“We work to secure protection and opportunities for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Coloradans and their families,” he said. “And we are working toward recognition of full marriage.”
Currently, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and most recently, New Jersey, all have legalized gay marriage, while Washington D.C. and some counties in New Mexico are issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
More than just equality and recognition, same-sex couples want the tax benefits of marital status denied by a civil union.
As of Sept. 23, the Internal Revenue Service will recognize same-sex marriages no matter what state couples were married in, according to the IRS website.
Durango resident Amy McClintock and her partner have been together 19 years. They formalized their union in a commitment ceremony long ago and took advantage of their state civil-union rights as soon as the bill was passed this year.
But the benefits of a complete and legal marriage were important to them, so the two traveled to Connecticut and in the presence of family, were officially, legally wed.
“When the ruling came down from the IRS and the Department of Revenue that if you got married in another state it would be recognized on a federal level, we thought, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t wait,’” McClintock said.
They tied the knot Oct. 11.
She said legal rights and acknowledgement were more important to them than waiting for Colorado to catch up.
“We thought about the benefits and the security for our family that we would gain through marriage,” she said. “It outweighed waiting here in Colorado.”
McClintock said that while their marriage is legitimate on a federal level, Colorado only observes their civil union.
“So when we file our taxes, on the federal level we can say that we’re spouses, but on a state level we have to file a different form, a civil union,” she said. “It’s kind of convoluted.”
Barbara Balaguer Blundell, board chairwoman for 4CGLAD, the Four Corners Gay and Lesbian Alliance for Diversity, said the distinction is important and personal for couples. She said while a civil union marks progress, it still falls short of a day when people can just openly be themselves.
“We see it as a stepping stone, but’s it’s not equality,” she said. “Why is this even an issue? Hopefully, the day will come.”