Janet Urquhart

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May 1, 2013
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Pitkin County grants its first civil union

Two stylishly dressed Snowmass Village residents became the first couple in Pitkin County to be granted a civil union certificate Wednesday.

“For the record, we are wearing Dior,” said a beaming James Ontko, who tied the civil knot with his partner, Ricardo Massolini, shortly after the county Clerk and Recorder’s Office opened Wednesday morning. Both men, dressed in black Christian Dior suits and ties, planned to head over to the St. Regis in Aspen for a champagne breakfast after signing their certificate and exchanging rings amid applause from a handful of clerk’s office staffers.

The Colorado Civil Union Act went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and county clerks’ offices in Denver and Boulder opened just after midnight to begin issuing certificates to waiting couples.

The Denver Clerk and Recorder’s Office said 130 couples checked in before the office closed at 3 a.m., reopening at 8 a.m. In Boulder County, 48 couples entered into civil unions overnight.

Pitkin County began offering civil unions during normal business hours; Ontko and Massolini came in about 15 minutes after the office opened. Another couple came in later in the day.

Ontko and Massolini are planning a party this summer to celebrate their union and another in the fall in Massolini’s home country of Brazil. But Wednesday, the duo chose to make their union official at the clerk’s office counter, rather than signing the document at a ceremony elsewhere and then returning it to be recorded.

“We’re just going to do it here. It’s just between us — it doesn’t need to involve other people,” Ontko said.

Colorado’s civil unions law allows unmarried couples, both gay and heterosexual, the ability to form civil unions and gain rights similar to those available to married couples. They include transferring property, making medical decisions, adopting children and qualifying for health insurance and survivor benefits.

Ontko said he knew he wanted to seek a civil union when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the civil unions bill in March.

“I didn’t think twice about it. I’m in love, and I’m proud of it,” he said.

Ontko works at Christian Dior in Aspen, while Massolini intends to begin taking business classes at Colorado Mountain College.

“I came here to improve my life … I met James, I fell in love,” Massolini said.

The passage of the Colorado Civil Union Act marks a dramatic shift for a state where, in 1992, voters approved a ban on discrimination protection for gays and in 2006 made gay marriage illegal under the state constitution.

Same-sex couples still do not have the right to marry in Colorado, though some legislators who opposed the civil union bill said it comes too close to marriage for their liking. Couples who enter civil unions, however, are not on equal footing with married couples when it comes to various rights accorded married couples under federal law, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy and lobbying organization.

According to the HRC, there are 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status in federal law.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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The Aspen Times Updated May 4, 2013 10:22AM Published May 6, 2013 11:50AM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.