Colorado gay marriage advocates devise new plan

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Advocates for gay marriage in Colorado have devised a new approach to winning legal recognition for same-sex couples, creating an alternative model for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organisations.

According to The San Francisco Chronicle, at least one constitutional amendment to ban marriage for same-sex couples is expected to be submitted for Colorado’s November ballot.

But some gay rights organisations in the state are not fighting it. Instead, The Chronicle reports, the organisations are supporting an initiative to define the rights of people in domestic partnerships, rights that largely parallel those of married couples under Colorado law. Nowhere has such a measure been put to a statewide vote.

“We feel really strongly that people need something positive to vote for rather than just being against the marriage ban,” said Sean Duffy, executive director of Coloradans for Fairness and Equality, to The Chronicle.

The controversial tactic could become a model for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights organisations nationwide after two major legal defeats in state courts this year and passage of same-sex marriage bans in 19 states since 2004. Marriage bans will be on ballots in at least seven more states this November.

“When gay marriage has gone 0-19 at the polls, including in Oregon, which is not a bastion of Reaganism, it’s time for something different,” said Mr Duffy, who describes himself as a conservative Christian Republican.

Support for the partnership measure has come from both sides in the same-sex marriage debate. In the state Legislature, which swung Democratic in 2004 and put the referendum on the ballot two years later, four Republicans voted for it and one Democrat voted against it.

Evan Wolfson, a civil rights attorney and executive director of Freedom to Marry, told The Associated Press that Colorado is the only state where voters could be given an alternative to an amendment barring gay marriage-and he doesn’t think it’s a good idea. He also fears voters will be confused.

“The public should not be asked to vote on the basic rights of a minority, particularly in a confusing bombardment of campaign ads and political agendas,” he said. “What’s wrong here is a minority is being asked to see its rights put up to a vote.”

Colorado has played host to significant events in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights movement. In 1992, Colorado voters passed Amendment 2 to the state Constitution, which would have prohibited any legal recognition of homosexuality. It was overturned by the US Supreme Court in a fundamental decision in gay rights law.

A proposed amendment to the US Constitution limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples that failed this summer was authored by Representative Marilyn Musgrave and sponsored in the Senate by Wayne Allard, both Colorado Republicans.

But Jim Pfaff, who represents Focus on the Family on the Coloradans for Marriage coalition, said Focus on the Family objects to domestic partnerships partially because they are a stepping-stone to marriage and also because they are “discriminatory.”

“We believe holding out benefits only to same-sex couples discriminates against other relationships where there might be a need” for those rights, Mr Pfaff said, adding that he thinks same-sex couples don’t need to be specifically granted those rights because many are available through contract law.

Pat Steadman, a veteran gay rights lobbyist in Colorado who helped the legal effort to overturn Amendment 2, said the domestic partnership push is — for now — the smart move.

“With the recent court decisions, what we’re doing here makes more and more sense,” Mr Steadman said. “We’re moving the ball down the field. We’re getting over the hurdles of how people feel about the ‘M’ word.”

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