DENVER — New Jersey moved from same-sex civil unions to gay marriage in a flash. It will be a longer road for Colorado.
Last week the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the state’s civil unions provided an unequal option for gay residents and for that reason were unconstitutional. On Monday same-sex New Jersey couples began getting hitched. Although Colorado legalized civil unions in 2013, a 2006 amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage stands in the road like a high hurdle.
“The New Jersey Supreme Court, in its unanimous decision, made clear there’s no good reason for denying gay couples the freedom to marry,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of the nation-wide campaign Freedom to Marry. He noted that New Jersey is now the 14th state to allow gay marriage, meaning just over a third of Americans live in a right-to-marry state.
“Unfortunately in Colorado… the constitution has been locked,” he said. “The only ruling available in Colorado would be ruling under the U.S. Constitution or a return to the ballot to get rid of this discriminatory language that has no place in the state constitution and should never have been put there in the first place.”
State Senator Pat Steadman, sponsor of the Colorado civil unions bill, agreed that there’s no fast fix for supporters of gay equality here.
“What voters did to our state constitution in 2006 is unfortunate, it means we’re going to be at the tail-end of the party and not necessarily one of the leaders.”
Gay marriage activists generally agree that 2016 will be Colorado’s coming-out year.
Jon Monteith, communication’s director for LGBTQ-rights group One Colorado, said the path to marriage has already begun. His organization is traveling the state asking residents about the issue.
“That discussion includes an honest assessment of fighting for marriage in our court system, which can be an incredibly lengthy, costly and unpredictable process,” he said. “Especially in a region where the federal courts have not always stood on the right side of history.”
Monteith added that it’s a priority for his group to move forward only with a high-probability of success. He said same-sex couples in the state have had their relationships voted on several times in recent years because civil unions took many tries to pass.
Bruce Hausknecht, a judicial analyst at Focus on the Family, said that social research demonstrates kids do best when raised by their biological mother and father, so it’s in the state’s interest to retain the constitutional “one man-one woman” definition of marriage.
But the research Hausknecht refers to has been called into question. In fact, the findings of the most celebrated of the traditional-marriage studies done by University of Texas Professor Mark Regnerus, serves mostly to bolster mounting work that demonstrates committed two-parent homes do best for kids, no matter whether the parents are gay or straight. Indeed, other work suggests children of same-sex parents are often raised in more stable less violent homes than are their straight-parent counterparts.
Hausknecht said the point is that, in the end, it’s a question for Colorado voters to decide, and they’ve already decided.
“It was decided in 2006 when they approved the amendment,” Hausknecht said. “I don’t think it needs to be addressed again.”
Of course, the question of marriage equality is being addressed again all over the country. Freedom to Marry aims to win marriage rights in Hawaii and Illinois before the year is out, followed by Oregon in 2014. Like the activists on the ground here, the organization is looking to 2016 to bring gay marriage to Colorado.
“I’m a patient person but I’m anxious for the end game,” said Steadman. “Passing the civil unions bill was a big deal, it moved us a whole lot closer and it helps a whole lot of people in the interim. But it’s time for marriage equality, and everybody knows it.”
This story is reprinted with permission from The Colorado Independent.