Domestic partnerships enter spotlight
October 16, 2006
At first blush, Bert Myrin and Walt Madden don’t really need a state law blessing domestic partnerships. The two have secured a comfortable existence in a gay-friendly town, living with their dog, Kokee, in an upscale West End home overlooking Red Mountain. Madden is a software programmer, and Myrin practices estate law, which means he knows how to secure legal rights for the couple under current laws. Why would they need a state statute legalizing same-sex unions?For all the reasons no one likes to think about.Even heterosexual couples tend to avoid difficult discussions about what to do if one of them dies or who makes decisions for long-term care if they split up, Myrin says.”Nobody wants to have these discussions,” he said, noting that roughly 50 percent of people in the United States die without wills, leaving the state to decide how to divide the estate.”We’ve been able to contract around most of it because it’s what I do for a living,” Myrin said.But they can’t contract for everything, and even if they could, the two still see the referendum as a giant step in the right direction. The statute would confer responsibilities to gay couples in addition to rights, and that would ease some of the burdens on society, they say.”Society around the world couples people,” Myrin said. “And those couples are then responsible for the other in times of trouble. It distributes that among the people instead of their becoming a ward of the state.”
Furthermore, the fact that the state Legislature put the referendum on the ballot shows that Colorado’s government might be moving along with the times, they say.A number of countries and states recognize gay marriages or civil unions, and the majority of Fortune 500 companies already extend benefits to same-sex partners.”I think that’s a recognition on the part of corporate America that in order to compete, you have to recognize there are gay couples, and you have to support them and their families,” Madden said. “In some sense, I think the government is catching up to corporate America.”If Colorado voters pass Referendum I in November, it could go a long way toward repairing the state’s image as anti-gay – an image Myrin says is merited.”This goes toward saying we’ve evolved as a state – we’re gotten past that,” Madden said, adding that he believes that amendment took a toll on tourist numbers in Aspen during Gay Ski Week. “Back then, I think attendance went way down because the state said, ‘You’re not welcome here.'”And those messages are important to couples like Myrin and Madden, who avoid places they don’t think they’ll feel welcome. The two were considering a vacation in Croatia, but several gay couples were attacked there recently, which prompted them to rethink their plans.”I think gay people probably all have a recognition that there’s a set of people out there that are hostile to gay people,” Madden said.
“Without a doubt, we wouldn’t move to Colorado Springs,” Myrin quickly added.The strongest opposition Myrin sees from people who oppose the amendment is that they claim it would “diminish the significance of marriage for society by reducing marriage to a list of benefits and responsibilities,” according to the state-published Blue Book, which offers an analysis of ballot proposals.Madden calls that nonsense.”I don’t know how Bert’s and my partnership can affect anyone else’s marriage,” he said. “I can’t connect those two dots.”If the referendum passes, Myrin and Madden say they definitely would file to become domestic partners.The two have considered going to Massachusetts to marry and returning to Colorado to challenge this state’s laws, but Myrin said he doesn’t think that’s the right approach.The domestic partnership would confer most of the same rights and responsibilities (although roughly 1,100 federal rights granted to married couples would still be off limits) without having to go through a court battle to have the union and the rights recognized.
Making the legal commitment without calling it marriage is a happy medium in the Aspen couple’s eyes. Gay couples simply are not a threat, they say.”In Vermont or Massachusetts or even some of those other countries, the world hasn’t come to an end,” Madden said.But when the situations arise that no one wants to talk about, they say, it could close a gap in the law that lawyers simply can’t address. And even where they can, most gay couples haven’t taken those steps.”I think until something touches you personally, until you’re in one of those very narrow spaces you can’t contract around, you don’t even think about it,” Myrin said.This from a man who makes his living helping people think about it. Even though Myrin jokes that a domestic partnership statute could take a bite out of business, he says it would give gay couples the advantages he works to provide through legal contracts – and that would protect people whether they think about it or not.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is email@example.com