Rulings on gay marriage cases mark ‘new era’

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Local gay lawmakers are applauding recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings on two key gay-marriage cases, and are expressing confidence that the decisions will provide momentum for a same-sex-marriage movement in Colorado.

“The court clearly said that we’re in a new era of respect and dignity, and that we no longer give special rights to some people,” said state Rep. Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge.

The high court on June 26 struck down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to gay couples who are legally married in certain states. In a separate case, the court cleared the way for gay marriages to resume in California.

The rulings do not impact a gay-marriage ban that Colorado voters supported in 2006.

However, gay legislators believe the rulings will provide momentum toward achieving something in Colorado beyond civil unions, which gives same-sex couples some of the rights associated with marriage and was made law earlier this year.

“With civil unions, there was always an understanding that this would be an incremental step,” said state Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City.

Schafer was a House sponsor of Senate Bill 11, the Civil Unions Act, along with Mark Ferrandino, the state’s first openly gay House speaker.

“Now that the Supreme Court has ensured that the federal government can’t discriminate against same-sex couples who are married, it is more important than ever that we continue to fight for the freedom to marry in Colorado,” Ferrandino said in a statement issued after the rulings.

Almost immediately after the Supreme Court issued its rulings, there was movement toward repealing Colorado’s Amendment 43, the 2006 voter-approved Definition of Marriage Act that banned gay marriage in the state.

Two Coloradans on June 26 filed a proposed ballot initiative with the state’s Legislative Council that would allow same-sex couples in Colorado to marry.

Jeremy Mathis, a graduate student living in Aurora, said his hope is for the measure to get on the 2014 general election ballot.

“We’re in the very early stages,” he said. “We’re eager, and we know how much it means to people to get this done. At the same time, we have to do it right.”

The Legislature could take up an Amendment 43 repeal on its own. However any changes to the state’s Constitution would require a two-thirds majority in both legislative chambers.

Asked if she would like to be a part of that kind of effort, Schafer said, “Of course. I’d be proud to do that.”

“But I like the idea of putting this on our ballot,” she said. “I think we’re ready for this. I don’t think it would be difficult because so many people are parents and friends of gays.”

Moreno said Coloradans have evolved on the issue of gay marriage, seven years removed from Amendment 43, which was supported by about 55 percent of voters.

“I think the public opinion on this issue has changed dramatically,” Moreno said. “Colorado is a different place than what it was in 2006, when it still didn’t pass by an overwhelming majority.”

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