Gov. John Hickenlooper supports civil unions and celebrated yesterday's historic civil unions bill passage in the Colorado House by posting this message on Facebook:
#CivilUnions passes! Today, every Coloradan has equal rights. #coleg
Although his heart was in the right place, followers were quick to point out in replies to the post that although civil unions are a step forward towards more equal rights for same-sex couples -- it is not equal to marriage. It's certainly a worthy moment of celebration, but equal rights all Coloradans still do not have.
"Not true. Civil unions does not mean marriage equality, unfortunately," Josh Cain wrote on Hickenlooper's Facebook page.
"It's a step, and one I'm very happy for. But it's still not full rights imo," another Facebook user Brendon Shannon posted.
Another Facebook user wrote: "Not true! But we're closer! Full marriage equality is next!"
And still another: "While civil unions are a start, it is not equality. Equality is the same marriage rights for all. Let's not forget the end of the road is true equality for all, not a work around. When a gay couple can stand in front of their friends with a marriage certificate in hand then you can state equality for all."
Dozens of comments read this way, although excited about the passage Senate Bill 11, which grants same-sex couples similar rights to married couples, simultaneously letting the governor know that this is not equal rights, not yet, and that their hope is that Colorado ends its ban on gay marriage.
Colorado's measure does grant gay couples similar rights to marriage, The Associated Press reported:
Colorado's measure grants gay couples rights similar to marriage, including enhanced inheritance and parental rights. People in civil unions also would have the ability to make medical decisions for their partners.
But openly gay Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver), who has sponsored similar legislation in the past in Colorado, celebrated the bill's passage but noted, "We passed this bill because this is the best we can do."
"Civil unions are not marriage," Steadman went on to say. "They are something that are separate, and distinct, and lesser, and unequal. And that really is not good enough."
However during the debate over civil unions this year, as in years past, Republicans argued that civil unions alone were too similar to marriage and that it undermines the institution of marriage. This year, some Colorado Republicans were opposed to this bill because it does not allow for exemptions for religious groups that are opposed to civil unions.
Democrats said that allowing exemptions like that would open the door to discrimination. Under the current bill, religious instituions are not required to perform civil unions, The Associated press reports. But Republicans wanted more protections for religious businesses and adoption agencies which may want exemption.
Proponents of gay marriage are also critical of civil unions because often employers, hospitals and the public at-large do not recognize civil unions and marriage as being the same.
Colorado's Constitution still bans same-sex marriage -- in 2006 voters approved an anti-gay marriage ban -- and although legal civil unions is a step forward for LGBT rights in the state, it's not full equality, which many same-sex marriage advocates say will only come with full marriage rights for all, gay or straight.
The passage of SB-11 likely marks the end of one battle and the beginning of the next: legal gay marriage in Colorado. But it could be a tough battle, less than a handful of Republicans in the Colorado legislature supported civil unions, and it remains unclear how many would support revoking the gay marriage ban in the state.
Republican State Senator Kevin Lundberg, who stands in opposition of the civil unions bill, told 9News:
The principles of marriage and the family are so much bigger than Colorado's laws that we are no more capable of actually redefining this timeless institution than we are of changing the laws of gravity.
Colorado may take another look at their Constitution, however, if the U.S. Supreme Court -- which was urged by the Obama administration recently to strike-down California's ban on same-sex marriage -- finds Proposition 8 unconstitutional.
In an amicus brief in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the administration particularly said those states which allow civil unions but not same-sex marriages -- Delaware, Hawaii Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and soon, Colorado -- were violating the 14th Amendment's right to equal protection.
"The designation of marriage," wrote Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., "confers a special validation of the relationship between two individuals and conveys a message to society that domestic partnerships or civil unions cannot match."
Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement that the Justice Department weighed in to “vindicate the defining constitutional ideal" of equal treatment under the law.
According to a poll by Public Policy Polling in August, 57 percent of Coloradans support a bill establishing civil unions with 37 percent opposed.
If Hickenlooper signs SB-11 into law, which he's expected to do, Colorado would become the sixth state to support civil unions. Currently, nine states and the District of Columbia give marriage licenses to same-sex couples and three states have pending same-sex marriage laws.
The post from Hickenlooper generated nearly 300 replies, 2,500 Likes and over 500 shares.