Backers: Domestic partnership bill ‘common decency’
October 4, 2006
Two seemingly contradictory proposals regarding same-sex couples have made their way onto the state’s November ballot.Referendum I proposes implementing a state statute to authorize legal domestic partnerships, which would confer rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples entering such a partnership.Amendment 43 would add a constitutional amendment defining marriage as “one man and one woman.”Although the two appear to be in opposition, proponents of Referendum I say the two can coexist.”It’s not about marriage. It doesn’t challenge your definition of marriage,” said Pat Steadman, a Denver attorney working with the nonprofit Coloradans for Fairness, which supports the referendum. “It really sidesteps some of the controversy around that gay marriage debate.”Steadman was in Aspen this week with the nonprofit’s executive director, Sean Duffy.The pair said the new statute, if approved, would give same-sex couples some of the basic legal rights all human beings should be afforded.Among them would be the right to visit the partner in an emergency room and the right to make health-care decisions in emergencies, end-of-life situations and regarding institutional care – if one of the couple is hospitalized with Alzheimer’s, for instance. In the event one partner died without a will, it would allow the other to be a beneficiary, as spouses currently are, rather than seeing assets go to the state.In addition to conferring rights, the statute also would enforce certain responsibilities, such as paying for child care or the equivalent of alimony were the partnership to end.The domestic partnership would be legally binding and could be dissolved only in court, as marriages are.But the statute would affect more than just the couples, Steadman said.”We think children are actually some of the big winners under Referendum I,” he said.Currently, when a same-sex couple seeks to adopt a child, only one person in the couple can be the legal parent.That means that even though the child is raised by two people, he or she has only one parent who can provide health benefits through a job, only one parent who can visit or make decisions in an emergency room and only one parent who’s legally responsible for child support should the couple break up.Referendum I would make both partners legally responsible for certain obligations, as is the case for married couples, whether they remain married or divorce.According to a recent article in the Rocky Mountain News, the greatest opposition to the referendum comes from people who say it conflicts with a religious belief that marriage should be defined as one man, one woman.But Steadman and Duffy say the measure is not about changing the definition of marriage – it’s about providing rights for all human beings.”We shouldn’t be treating good people who want to build a life together as second-class citizens,” Duffy said.The two acknowledged that the strongest opposition comes from people who don’t believe gay couples should exist at all.”One of the main objections for people we’ll never persuade is that there should be no gay people,” Duffy said.But that flies in the face of reality, Steadman says.”They say Referendum I is going to create gay families, but they already exist,” he said. “You can’t just click your heels and make these families go away.”And those families already have the legal right to adopt children, so the problems the referendum is designed to address already exist as well, he said.”If you hold certain values like wanting to respect and love your neighbor and make sure children have the protection of our laws, what is in the best interest of the child?” he said.Laws exist to protect children and provide for partners in marriage, he said, but “those laws aren’t working for same-sex couples. … A lot of this is common decency and compassion.”For more information: Supporters include Coloradans for Fairness (www.fairequal.org) Opponents include Focus on the Family (www.family.org), Colorado Catholic Conference (www.cocatholicconference.org) and the National Association of Evangelicals (www.nae.net). The Rocky Mountain News published an article titled Marriage line drawn Sept. 19 about a poll it conducted with Denvers CBS 4. View the article online at http://www.rockymountainnews.com.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.