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What Supreme Court's gay marriage decisions mean for Colorado

The U.S. Supreme Court issued its long-awaited opinions on gay marriage late in June. In two opinions, the Court ruled the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and cleared the way for gay marriages to go forward in California.

In Colorado, gay marriage is prohibited by a 2006 amendment to the state constitution. The provision defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The Supreme Court's decisions last month will not in themselves change that, because the rulings did not create a constitutional right to gay marriage. But by sending a message of acceptance of gay marriage, the rulings may help sway public opinion toward an eventual repeal of the 2006 amendment by Colorado voters.

In the meantime, Colorado has passed a civil union law which provides gay couples some legal protections, including a legal process for dissolving the relationship. This highlights the ironic fact that one of the main advantages of marriage is the ability to divorce. Currently, when a gay couple in Colorado splits up, they must do so without most of the protections the divorce laws provide to married heterosexuals. These protections include spousal support, also known as alimony, which gives some financial support to a spouse who was financially dependent on the other partner.

Whether the Supreme Court's opinion striking down DOMA will have any effect on Colorado civil union couples is not clear. DOMA denied to gay married couples federal benefits that were available to spouses in heterosexual marriages. These benefits include the ability to file joint tax returns, and to collect military and social security benefits. Because of the existence of DOMA, the civil union law did not include these benefits. A change in federal law would probably be necessary before they were available to Colorado civil union couples.

Source: Fort Collins Coloradoan, "In Colorado, DOMA ruling ignites movement to overturn ban on same-sex marriages," Patrick Malone, June 26, 2013