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Colo. won’t clarify civil unions law until Supreme Court issues marriage ruling

Colo. won’t clarify civil unions law until Supreme Court issues marriage ruling
DENVER — Colorado won’t address some legal questions about same-sex unions pending a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on gay marriage.

Colorado state capitol in Denver.
Colorado state capitol in Denver.

A Republican-controlled Senate committee voted 3-2 on party lines Wednesday to reject a bill clarifying aspects of Colorado’s civil-unions law.

Colorado has a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but it is on hold. The Supreme Court has announced that it will decide whether same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in America and will take up cases that ask them to overturn bans in four states. The cases will be argued in April, and a decision is expected by late June.

In the meantime, Colorado allows same-sex couples to both marry and enter civil unions.

A Democrat proposed updating Colorado law to clarify the legal standing of people in civil unions.

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The measure by Sen. Pat Steadman of Denver would have answered nuts-and-bolts questions for people in civil unions, such as whether their union counts toward the length of a marriage if they choose to marry.

Steadman, who sponsored Colorado’s 2013 civil-unions law, said the legal landscape for marriage is changing quickly and that Colorado needs to act now to avoid legal wrangling later.

“I think we knew this day was coming,” Steadman told the committee about the looming Supreme Court decision.

Republicans control the committee and rejected the measure without comment.

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Only one person testified against the proposal. Jessica Haverkate of Colorado Family Action argued that Colorado’s same-sex marriage ban would take effect again if the U.S. Supreme Court disagrees with lower federal courts.

“The issue of marriage is still very much an open question,” Haverkate said.

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Indeed, Colorado’s posture on same-sex unions is far from settled. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is located in Denver, but its same-sex marriage decisions did not arise from Colorado cases.

Last summer, the Colorado Supreme Court lifted stays it had imposed in two related cases and cleared the way for same-sex nuptials. But if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds state-level marriage bans, that ruling would take precedent and same-sex marriages would again become illegal in Colorado.

No matter the outcome, legal confusion is likely to persist as courts navigate same-sex divorces and potentially award spousal support, according to two representatives of the Colorado Bar Association. The Bar Association supported Steadman’s bill.

“It’s an effort to prevent the litigation we’re going to have,” said James Bailey, a Denver divorce attorney who testified on behalf of the Colorado Bar Association.

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