HRC Blog

The Precarious Balance

by David Duffield


With the Colorado Civil Unions Act (SB2) looming in the Colorado Assembly, HRC looked into how other states dealt with marriage equality.  To date, there are five states which recognize civil unions (DE, HI, IL, NJ and RI), six states that have full marriage equality (CT, IA, MA, NH, NY and VT), and more than nine states that have domestic rights and partnership laws (Colorado among them).  But how does one state go from having no marriage equality to full equality?


Step 1) Local Activism: The states which have the most comprehensive marriage equality also have some of the oldest gay rights movements.  Non-discrimination rights in housing and job employment cultivated domestic partnership registries.  These registries made the public aware of established, committed same-sex couples, bringing legitimacy to marriage equality.

Step 2) Domestic Partnerships: Groups in Vermont, Hawaii, and Connecticut used these registries to push for more protective laws around property, healthcare, custody, and inheritance.  These became domestic partnerships and have formed the bedrock of protective laws for LGBT couples.

Step 3) Civil Unions: Beginning in 2000, some state courts decided in favor of same-sex couples by filing grievances based on discrimination in marriage equality (using the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause). Vermont (2000) and New Jersey (2006) had judicial action and went on to pass civil unions bills through legislative action.

Step 4) Marriage Equality:  Of course some states like New York (through legislatures) and Massachusetts (through courts) bypassed civil unions in favor in full marriage equality.  But other states were more gradual.  Vermont and Connecticut gave up civil unions in favor of full marriage equality in 2009 and 2011 respectively.

Colorado is working toward achieving step three this year.  76% of Coloradoans support civil unions in the last Public Policy Polling Poll.  John Hickenlooper made civil unions a priority in his State of the State speech.  And the GOP group Coloradans for Freedom came out in favor of civil unions. 

If SB2 is passed in 2012, marriage equality is sure to follow.

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