Colorado same-sex marriage raises legal issues

Gay marriage is now legal in Colorado, but the law is evolving, especially as it concerns civil unions.

Since October 7, 2014, same-sex marriage has been legal in the state of Colorado. The day before, the U.S. Supreme Court had refused to consider an appeal of the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10 th Circuit's holding that gay marriage prohibitions in Oklahoma and Utah were unconstitutional. This allowed the 10 th Circuit's holding to stand and since Colorado is part of the 10 th Circuit, that decision effectively struck down Colorado's 2006 voter-approved state constitutional amendment that had banned same-sex marriage.

Colorado's place in history

Most people do not know that the first marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples were a handful in 1975 in Boulder, Colorado, when a young clerk (and the local county attorney) could find nothing in Colorado law at that time forbidding her from approving the license applications, according to The Washington Post. She was later ordered to stop the practice.

At least one of the couples went on to use the license to marry and started on an odyssey in which they unsuccessfully attempted to use their marriage as the basis for immigration rights, as one of them was Australian. The Washington Post published their story here.

Colorado civil unions

On May 1, 2013, before gay marriage became legal, a Colorado bill took effect legalizing civil unions between two unmarried people "regardless of their gender." A Colorado civil union entitles the partners to "receive the benefits and protections and be subject to the responsibilities of spouses."

Accordingly, the civil union law sets out a long list of benefits and responsibilities within the family law arena to which parties to civil unions are subject, including matters regarding financial support, divorce and children, inheritance and survivorship, standing to bring certain lawsuits like wrongful death, public and private financial benefits, adoption, domestic abuse, medical care and hospital visitation, burial, insurance, homestead and other property rights, and more.

Civil unions remain legal in Colorado; those that pre-existed legal gay marriage continue and new licenses are still available. Evolving legal issues will have to be resolved, however, such as the legal steps for a couple to transition from a civil union to a marriage, or for someone in a civil union to marry someone else. In addition, some marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples in certain counties before the 10 th Circuit decision became final and the legal status of those licenses may be in question.

A bill that would have clarified some of these legal issues related to civil unions vis-à-vis same-sex marriages died in a state Senate committee in January 2015.

More uncertainty

To add to the confusion, on April 28, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case challenging gay marriage prohibitions in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Michigan. While other recent Supreme Court decisions have leaned in favor of the rights of gay married individuals, the holding in this case may further impact the legal issues facing those in (or wanting to be in) same-sex marriages across the nation.

Seek Colorado family lawyer's advice

It is extremely important that any Coloradan facing legal issues related to same-sex marriage or divorce, or to civil unions, consult a knowledgeable family lawyer with experience in same-sex legal issues. The marital attorney will be able to advise the client regarding how these legal matters are evolving in Colorado and how they impact the particular situation.

From his office at the law firm of Dietze & Davis, P.C., in Boulder, family law attorney Tucker M. Katz represents clients in a wide variety of divorce and other family law issues.

Keywords: gay marriage, same-sex marriage, Colorado, civil union