DENVER – Senate Republicans on Wednesday killed a measure that sponsors said would have simply clarified conflicts between same-sex civil union and marriage laws in Colorado.
Democrats quickly used the opportunity to paint Republicans as standing on the wrong side of history given momentum on the side of gay marriage. They also suggested that without the bill’s passage, Colorado now is susceptible to lawsuits.
“You offer people the opportunity to be problem-solvers, and they’d prefer to be ostriches,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, the bill’s sponsor.
He particularly was upset the measure was assigned to the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, known as a “kill committee” for the controlling party.
Steadman rather would have seen the bill assigned to Judiciary, where Durango’s Sen. Ellen Roberts, a Republican, serves as chairwoman. Roberts was one of only a handful of Republicans to support civil-unions legislation.
But Roberts said the bill likely would have faced a similar fate in her committee, suggesting that until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the issue, it is premature to act. A high-court ruling is expected in June.
Lower federal courts across the country ruled bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, including in Colorado, where same-sex marriage now is legal.
“We’re in this period of time where we need a U.S. Supreme Court decision to provide clarity, because Colorado’s Constitution currently does not allow gay marriage,” Roberts told The Durango Herald.
Steadman’s cleanup bill would have prohibited entering into a marriage with someone already in a civil union. It also would have offered a process for merging a civil union into a marriage.
Perhaps just as significant, the measure would have addressed divorce proceedings by clarifying a timeline for gay marriages. If a civil union were to be merged into a marriage, then any calculation of the duration of the marriage would have included the civil union.
The length component would have assisted attorneys and judges in dividing assets during divorce proceedings, which can be an incredibly complicated and emotional process.
“You can hear how much this can quickly become complicated, because these property characteristics have different meanings to them, and they’re going to be treated differently,” testified James Bailey, a family attorney who spoke on behalf of the Colorado Bar Association.
But Republicans stressed it would have been premature to act.
“The biggest problem right now is what the Supreme Court did on Friday. We need to wait and let the Supreme Court figure this thing out before we start going down a couple of these paths,” said Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, chairman of the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. “Let’s get it cleaned up at the top first, and then we’ll decide what we’re going to do.”
Scott shrugged off the notion that the GOP is aiming to discriminate.
“People have a right to do what they want to do; live the way they want to live. I really don’t care how they live. It has nothing to do with gay marriage, or civil unions, or whatever you want to call it,” Scott said. “The state just needs to stay out of people’s personal business.”
Supporters pointed out that even if the U.S. Supreme Court reinstates a ban on gay marriage, there still will be individuals with duplicate licenses, because gay marriage currently is legal, and some opposite-sex couples also might choose to enter into a civil union.
“Even if the Supreme Court upsets the apple cart this summer, they will still have that choice,” Steadman said.
For Lizz Mueller, a former Durango resident who recently moved to Denver and testified on Wednesday, the issue is about certainty.
“I’m single, I’m not married, but I’ll get married someday,” Mueller said. “I don’t know who that person will be, male or female ... but I just think it would be really unfortunate if I did ever want to dissolve any civil union or get a divorce with a woman that I would be having to jump through so many hoops.”