The Rev. Nori Rost was speaking of the elected officials in the room: "Let them come together in such a way that the people of Colorado — all people of Colorado: wealthy, poor, straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, people of all races and ethnicities and faith traditions, those who inhale and those who don't — that all these people of Colorado are served and that the interests of this fine state are served well."
This was a historic moment in Colorado's Senate chambers.
Rost, an openly gay minister with Colorado Springs' All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, delivered the Jan. 9 invocation starting the 69th session of the state's General Assembly. In the House, the Denver Gay Men's Chorus performed, and the gavel was passed from Rep. Frank McNulty, the Republican lawmaker who stalled last year's session and killed a civil unions bill, to openly gay Democratic Speaker Mark Ferrandino.
"We have this great opportunity," Rost later told the Indy, "to make historic changes that will advance the cause of justice for all people."
The most historic change would come via passage of Senate Bill 11, authorizing civil unions in Colorado. The bill hasn't made its way through the Legislature yet, but with Democrats controlling both chambers, there's little doubt of its passage. As soon as May 1, LGBT couples throughout the state may be able to visit their local county clerk, plunk down $20 for a civil-union license, and obtain almost all of the rights afforded to married heterosexual couples.
While couples joined in a civil union would have expanded rights to, say, medical and end-of-life decision-making for their partners, bill sponsor Sen. Pat Steadman says they will still not be able to file their state income taxes jointly.
"Colorado's income tax is coupled with the federal tax code," says the Denver legislator. "... So, if you weren't able to file a joint return federally, it's a little difficult to figure out where to start filling out your tax forms if you are trying to file jointly at the state level."
To fix this, the state would have to create new forms for those in civil unions, a task that seems unlikely, according to Brad Clark, executive director of ONE Colorado.
And there are still limitations to civil unions, Clark notes, thanks to federal law. For example, straight couples enjoy access to a dedicated immigration process when one partner is not a U.S. citizen, but wants to move here; gay couples do not.
Gay couples who marry in a state where it is legal, such as New York, will automatically be granted civil union status in Colorado, (though Clark suggests they still get a license). However, since federal law doesn't recognize gay marriages or unions, Coloradans who form a civil union might lose their rights if they move to another state.
But even federal law is up for discussion this year. In March, the Supreme Court is slated to host oral arguments on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. If the court finds unconstitutional the definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman, individual states — including Colorado — could see nullification of their constitutional bans on gay marriage.
"I believe that in the very near future the Supreme Court's going to do for marriage equality for sex-same couples as it did for marriage equality for interracial couples," says Rost, "and all those silly state laws are going to be moot."