First civil unions in Fort Collins and Colorado

A Larimer County official confirmed Wednesday that approximately 27 local couples received civil union licenses, as a Colorado bill extending the privilege to same sex couples went into effect the same day.

“Everyone was very celebratory, there were many happy people,” said Chief Deputy Clerk and Recorder Angela Myers. “Many couples had been together for many of years. Many family members were there to celebrate with them.”

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Meanwhile, hundreds of family and friends gathered at Denver’s municipal building Wednesday morning at 12:01 a.m. when Colorado’s Civil Union Bill went into effect, as over 100 same-sex couples came to Denver’s Clerk and Recorder’s Office to get their civil union license.

Pastor David Bahr of Denver’s Park Hill United Church of Christ joined other interfaith religious leaders who were paired with judges so couples could choose between a secular or religious union.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and Mayor Michael Hancock also came and many couples opted to have one of them officiate their union.

Bahr said that for him, the opportunity to wear his clergy collar and perform these union ceremonies is a witness to the world that the Christian church is a loving and supportive witness to this step forward. The best part of his night, Bahr said, was saying the words in his script — words that gave him the authority to join couples in their civil union.

“I had this lovely couple, two women, and they were just so excited and when I used the words in my script — by the authority vested in me by the laws of the state of Colorado — to join them in a civil union, they cried,” Bahr said. “That’s powerful, it’s momentous and it’s historic. I got to be a part of the beginning of this in Colorado.”

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., co-sponsored legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act in 2009. The federal law restricts marriage benefits and recognition from same-sex couples, was passed by Congress in 1996 and has been a controversial piece of legislation ever since, with some sections even being deemed unconstitutional.

In 2012, Section 3 of the law was determined unconstitutional because it states, “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”

Senior biology major Haley Wilson said she thinks that — while Colorado’s Civil Union Bill is a step in the right direction for the state — the GLBTQ community is still being oppressed at the federal level.

“I think the majority of the problem is social recognition of romantic relationships,” Wilson said. “Because there is a difference between marriage and civil unions, just the name of it, is creating inequality.”

The legislation Polis co-sponsored, the Respect for Marriage Act, would recognize marriage at the federal level but each state would be able to decide whether to recognize it.  In addition, it would not obligate any person, church, city or state to award marriage licenses to two people of the same sex.

While this legislation was introduced in 2009, it wasn’t until 2011 when the first-ever congressional hearing was called on the proposal to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which culminated in the Senate Judiciary Committee voting 10-8 in favor of advancing the bill to the Senate floor, where it remains.

Political science Prof. John Straayer explained why bills are so hard to repeal. In an email to the Collegian, he said that it’s incredibly difficult for two reasons: there has to be majorities in both legislative chambers and the whole legislative process favors those who oppose legislation.

“Most bills in Congress and the states are minor bills, dealing with modest or routine matters, and are not controversial. These pass with little or no opposition,” Straayer wrote. “But issues such as marriage, guns, immigration, taxes and so forth, are not modest or routine and pushing legislation on these is difficult.”

Senior Reporter Kate Simmons can be reached at news@collegian.com.