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Marriage in New Mexico, Civil Unions in Colorado – The Wave Continues!

James Esseks,
Director, LGBTQ & HIV Project,
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March 22, 2013

It seems like every time you turn around these days, someone is announcing new support for the freedom to marry, which is the result of years of groundwork that the ACLU and other organizations have laid to get us to this incredible place.

Yesterday in New Mexico, we filed a new state court lawsuit seeking the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. We have partnered with the National Center for Lesbian Rights for the litigation, and both organizations have also joined forces with Equality New Mexico and Freedom to Marry on a related public education campaign to help New Mexicans show their neighbors why the freedom to marry is so important. We’re riding a wave of enthusiasm in New Mexico, as the Mayor and City Council in Santa Fe announced earlier this week that there’s good reason to believe that state law already allows same-sex couples to marry. We think that’s right, but know that we’re going to need guidance from the courts to get a final answer, so we’ve filed this case both to present the issue to the courts and to illustrate why denying the freedom to marry is so unfair.

Miriam Rand and Ona Porter, together for 25 years, embody what lies at the heart of civil marriage: loving commitment to each other and to their family. Together, they have three daughters, now grown, and one grandchild. Their middle daughter, Cherif, has multiple sclerosis, which causes progressive paralysis. When Cherif’s condition prevented her from taking care of her own daughter, who has cerebral palsy, Miriam and Ona took over responsibility for caring for both of them. Miriam, Ona, Cherif, and their granddaughter are recognized as a family to all who know them, but as individuals, Miriam and Ona are treated differently under the law. Because they cannot get married, they do not have automatic legal authority to make decisions for one another, a harmful reality that leaves their entire family more vulnerable. That’s why they are seeking the freedom to marry now.

Meanwhile, just across the state’s northern border in Colorado, we’re about to secure civil unions. The state constitution bars us from the freedom to marry, but the state legislature has stepped up and passed a civil unions law that provides same-sex couples all the protections and obligations that come with marriage, although not the name or the status that marriage brings. The governor is expected to sign the bill today, which will bring us to nine states with civil unions or full domestic partnerships. The big story in Colorado is that our side managed to hold the line and prevent broad religious exemptions from diluting the strength of the bill. One proposed exemption would have allowed government-funded charities to refuse to place foster children with a gay couple in a civil union based on the agency’s religious beliefs, not on what was best for the child. With leadership from the ACLU and others, Colorado lawmakers stood strong against such discrimination, passing a law that is a model for other states to follow.

As the country’s attention turns to next week’s oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the Prop 8 case and the ACLU’s challenge to DOMA in United States v. Windsor, the high court can’t help but notice the ever-deepening support for the freedom to marry from all geographic and political corners of the country.

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