What New Colorado Law Means for LGBT Domestic Relations

Wednesday, March 13,2013 marked an historic day for Colorado. After decades of defeat, advocates of civil unions finally heard a different message coming from the halls of the State Capitol. New legislation legalizes civil unions, expanding many of the rights and protections granted under Colorado statutes to LGBT couples.

History of Civil Unions in Colorado

Colorado has a long history with the contested issue of civil unions. The issue first arose in 1975 after a Boulder County Clerk issued marriage licenses to several same-sex couples, interpreting the phrase “any two persons” in the Colorado statute that defines marriage as being gender neutral. The marriages were later invalidated when the state’s attorney general issued a contrary opinion.

In 1992, the Colorado constitution was amended to prohibit sexual orientation from being a protected status under anti-discrimination/equal opportunity legislation, although this amendment was declared unconstitutional and repealed four years later. However, in 2006, voters approved another amendment that banned same-sex marriages, including common law marriages between same-sex couples.

Until now, legal recognition for same-sex partners has been limited to the rights provided under the Designated Beneficiary Agreements Act of 2009, which gives same-sex partners the right to make funeral arrangements for, receive death benefits and inherit property without a will from the deceased partner. New legislation will extend a number of rights and responsibilities granted under Colorado family law applicable to LGBT couples.

Legal Implications for Recognized Civil Unions

By legalizing civil unions, LGBT couples gain many rights and privileges similar to those granted under a marriage, such as:

  • The ability to make emergency and non-emergency medical decisions for their partners, including CPR/DNR directives
  • The ability to file a claim based on a wrongful death, emotional distress, loss of consortium or other laws dependent upon spousal status
  • The ability to collect survivor benefits included in workers’ compensation laws
  • The ability to claim a same-sex partner as a dependent for coverage under life and health insurance policies
  • The ability to adopt a same-sex partner’s child
  • The ability to refrain from providing compelled testimony against a same-sex partner
  • Eligibility for family leave and public assistance benefits

Recognition of civil unions extends protections provided by domestic abuse and domestic violence laws to same-sex couples. Because property rights are significantly affected by the new legislation, prenuptial agreements will also be applicable to civil unions.

While many of the rights and protections of heterosexual couples are extended to LGBT couples under new legislation, civil unions are not marriages, leaving some “gray area” about how Colorado family law may or may not apply to same-sex couples. For instance, civil unions are not recognized state-to-state the same way that marriages are. If a couple joined by civil union in Colorado moves to a state that does not recognize civil unions, the rights and protections guaranteed by Colorado law may no longer apply. Dissolving a civil union, particularly in a state that does not legally recognize these unions, may also present legal challenges since divorce is only necessary to dissolve a marriage.

Trusted Counsel for Civil Union Matters

The change in Colorado legislation reflects a profound shift in the attitude toward LGBT couples and the traditional definition of “family.” The rights, privileges and protections granted by Colorado family law statutes extended to LGBT couples under new legislation are the result of decades of work by advocates, yet legal challenges remain.

In order to exercise your newly-granted rights and privileges in family law matters, you should seek the counsel of an experienced Colorado family law attorney. If you have questions about how to apply for a civil union or how ensure property rights and other protections under a civil union, contact Gordon N. Shayne, Attorney at Law.

Mr. Shayne has decades of experience with Colorado family law. Because he focuses on one area of legal practice, he is able to stay current with legislative changes that pertain to family law and can help you understand how new laws apply to you and how to most fully benefit from them.

Disclaimer: The blogs posted on ShayneLaw.com are offered for informational purposes only. These blogs are not a solicitation for legal business and should not be construed as providing any legal advice or legal opinions as to any specific fact or circumstance. Specific legal issues, concerns and conditions always require the advice of an appropriate legal professional. To obtain legal advice or opinions about Colorado family law, personally consult with a licensed Colorado attorney.