Feb 092006
Authors: Sara Crocker

Check Monday's Collegian for more on Freedom to Marry Day.

What defines a marriage? The debate is a hot topic around the nation. But on Saturday, Fort Collins residents will celebrate all marriages on Freedom to Marry Day. In November, these same residents, with the rest of the state, will have the opportunity to answer to the marriage debate with their votes.

But before these bills are decided upon, people from around the state will gather at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in Old Town Square to perform a symbolic marriage, said Cheryl Distaso, coordinator for the Center for Justice, Peace and Environment and an organizer for the event.

Distaso said she expects 300 to 400 people to attend the seventh annual event.

"I think it's something people look forward to every year," Distaso said.

While Distaso said she would like to see the definition of marriage be dropped from state law, this is not the aim of legislators this session.

A state senator and a coalition of voters brought different sides of the debate to the capitol. One tackles the issue of allowing domestic partnerships, the other asking to define marriage in the state's constitution.

Senate Bill 166

This bill, introduced by Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Dist. 23, proposes establishing reciprocal benefits for two unmarried people who cannot legally enter into a marriage in the state.

This can include same-sex couples as well as people who live together but are not in a relationship.

"We're not going to base it on the sexual nature or absence of sexual nature of two people," Mitchell said.

The bill would make it so that health care and insurance benefits would extend to partners.

Mitchell introduced this bill as a compromise to sidestep the marriage debate and has received mixed comments.

"I've gotten interest and support from ordinary citizens," he said. "I've gotten opposition from some of the most determined and outspoken gay activists."

The senator said the bill does not create all the benefits a civil union or marriage would. Some in the legislature question its effectiveness.

"Either we give freedom to all citizens or we don't," said Angie Paccione, state representative D-Dist. 53, which includes Fort Collins. However, Paccione said she has not decided how she will vote on the bill.

Andy Bullecks, a senior history major, disagrees with the proposed bill.

"I feel like any (bill) that's not equal to rights married couples have is an insult and makes me feel like a second class citizen," he said.

Bullecks works at the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Student Services (GLBTSS), but said his views do not represent the views of GLBTSS.

If passed, couples would have to enter into a contract, which could be terminated if necessary, ending any benefits.

Colorado Marriage Amendment

This initiative was introduced by a coalition of voters, Coloradans for Marriage. If passed, this amendment would change the state's constitution to define marriage as that between a man and a woman.

"The definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is based upon thousands of years of common sense tradition and is rooted in immutable and empirical facts of nature and biology with respect to human reproduction and the future of humanity," according to the amendment.

According to Colorado statutes, marriage has been defined as a union between a man and a woman since 2000, but there is currently nothing within the state's constitution defining marriage. Nineteen states currently define marriage within their constitutions.

Amending the constitution would be harder than to contest the amendment, said Courtenay Daum, a CSU political science professor. Daum noted that where states have recognized gay marriage, it has generally been by a court decision.

"It's more permanent in some ways to amend the constitution and that alleviates the chance that judges will come to other conclusions," she said.

But the amendment also states that it does not wish to limit same-sex relationships or prevent these couples from receiving the same benefits as married couples.

Mitchell thinks it's likely the amendment could pass. He noted that since judges in Massachusetts ruled in favor of recognizing gay marriage in 2004, states around the nation have been working to define marriage within its constitution, and most have passed with more than a 60 percent margin.

Focus on the Family, one of the major advocates for Coloradans for Marriage did not return calls.

Colorado Domestic Partnership Act

This bill, which has been introduced to the state legislature in the past, has not been introduced yet this year.

But it is closer to granting full rights to same-sex couples, said Paccione and Mitchell. The bill would allow couples to register for a civil union, providing benefits similar to a married couple.

"I think Tom Plant's bill is a very good step toward full marriage rights," Distaso said of one state representative, Dist. 13-D, who has supported this bill in the past.

Democrats supporting the act did not return phone calls.

Sara Crocker can be reached at regional@collegian.com

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