Three couples celebrated their civil unions at the Limelight Hotel in Aspen on Saturday as part of the 37th annual Aspen Gay Ski Week celebration.
The couples — Brett McNamee and Larry McDonald, Kathy Kramer and Sharon Breton, and Kim Foster and Anne Tully — all had their Pitkin County civil-union licenses and took their vows together as the Rev. J.D. Rigdon, of Castle Rock, performed the group union.
“It was so moving, and all three couples were wonderful,” Rigdon said. “Aspen has always been a sanctuary of acceptance to me. I can’t even describe the incredible vibe going on here. ... You just have to experience it.”
McNamee and McDonald have been together for four years, and being part of the group civil union was important to them on several levels. Both work as promoters for Aspen Gay Ski Week and wanted to celebrate their union in Aspen, where both men have made many close friends.
This year marks the 17th year that McDonald has taken part in Aspen Gay Ski Week. Aspen was also one of the first places the two men visited as a couple.
“Aspen has become almost a cornerstone in our relationship,” McDonald said. “It was one of the first towns I ever visited where I could be openly gay and was accepted for who I was.”
The two men had friends from Germany, England, Australia and Switzerland, as well as their families, in attendance Saturday. Rather than plan their union elsewhere, it made sense to them to have the celebration where they’ve met so many people that are important to both of them.
“We’ve waited more than two years to have this union,” McNamee said. “We’re not trying to make a political statement, but we’re definitely proud to be part of a movement that allows so many people the rights they deserve. It’s amazing to be part of this, as the world is changing faster than we think it is. Ten years ago, I couldn’t even think of something like this as a reality. It’s also great to be able to share this day with two other couples.”
Kramer and Breton have been a couple for 20 years, and both wanted to be part of the celebration in Aspen.
“Aspen is a very accepting community,” Kramer said. “The past 48 hours have been overwhelming. I can’t think of a better place to celebrate our union, and I can’t believe how nervous I’m feeling.”
When Colorado passed the Colorado Civil Union Act in March, it gave gay and lesbian couples in Colorado the right to enter into a legally binding commitment that provides many of the same benefits and legal protections as marriage.
However, a civil union isn’t a marriage by legal definition. Civil unions only provide state-level benefits and protections. Some of those benefits include being allowed to make decisions relating to medical care and treatment, the ability to inherit real and personal property from a partner without a written will, and being able to designate a partner as a beneficiary to retirement and to allow hospital visitation rights.
The federal Defense of Marriage Act prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex spouses for federal purposes. But in June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the act, which could now lead to tweaks in federal laws concerning rights and benefits for same-sex couples.
Another important provision of the Colorado Civil Union Act made it possible for parties in a civil union to cover their partners as dependents on their health insurance starting on Jan. 1.
Those benefits were especially important to Foster and Tully, who were celebrating their fifth anniversary as a couple Saturday.
“Anne’s prior partner passed away seven years ago,” Foster said. “Anne wasn’t allowed to help with any of the medical or legal decisions. At one point, they weren’t even allowing her to see her partner in the hospital. That’s one big reason why our civil union is so important to both of us. A civil union is a great step, and we’re hoping a real marriage is next. Aspen is the perfect place to take our vows — we love to ski, love the altitude and love each other.”
In a statement in August, Todd Heimel, board president of the Roaring Fork Gay and Lesbian Community Fund, said legal marriage is the next step for many of the Colorado couples that have now gone through civil unions.
“Colorado recently passed a law in 2013 recognizing civil unions, and it’s only a matter of time before gay marriage is legal, as well,” Heimel said. “We want to celebrate the progress that has been made and continue to promote equality for all.”
The Roaring Fork Gay and Lesbian Community Fund is the beneficiary of Aspen Gay Ski Week, which promotes tolerance, understanding and diversity through education, community action and service.