NOREEN: Heterosexual couples can get civil union license, too

April 11, 2013
photo - Here is what a civil union license will look like. Photo by Courtesy of the El Paso County clerk's office
Here is what a civil union license will look like. Photo by Courtesy of the El Paso County clerk's office 

Coloradans will be able to enter into civil unions beginning May 1 and what has been a lightning rod political issue already is being absorbed by the bureaucracy because, like anything else government does, the job isn’t complete until the paperwork is done.

At 8 a.m. on May 1, El Paso County couples will be able to obtain civil union licenses at four locations operated by the county clerk’s office — Centennial Hall on Cascade Avenue, the Citizens Service Center on Garden of the God Road and satellite offices at the intersections of Research Parkway and Union Boulevard and Powers Boulevard and Airport Road.

In some ways a civil union license will be like a marriage license. Both cost $30, and $7 of the total automatically is diverted to combat domestic violence.

Both licenses bestow an official sanctioning of a relationship when it comes to a spectrum of legal issues, including community property, health care benefits and the ability to declare an exemption for a life partner (for Colorado tax purposes only).

The civil unions issue has been controversial because for the first time, gay couples will be able to obtain a legal status long denied them in a state that still recognizes marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The issue was the focus of a special session of the Colorado Legislature in 2012, but nothing was resolved.

When Democrats seized control of the Colorado House in the November election, a civil unions bill had no trouble winning approval. Love it or hate it, it’s the law of the land and county clerks are preparing to administer it.

“We anticipate we will have more people coming into our recording department,” said El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams, who did not support the civil unions legislation.

How a county clerk feels about it now isn’t relevant, Williams said, because “our job is to follow the law.”

In what may be regarded as a political statement, Denver and Boulder counties have announced they will open their doors to issue civil union licenses at 12:01 a.m. on May 1.

Jokingly asked if he would obtain an ad hoc beer-and-wine license for the occasion, Williams laughed and replied, “no, we won’t provide beer and wine for civil unions or traditional marriages.”

As for opening early, Williams said “I don’t think that’s necessary.” He added that El Paso County is the only one in Colorado where civil union licensing and other services are available on Saturdays, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

To be prepared, Williams said, his office has “been in touch with certain folks to know how many are coming.”

The best guess is that there will be about 50 civil union licenses issued in the first week, said John Leavitt, a spokesman for Williams.

Understandably civil unions have been cast as a gay rights issue, but the law recently signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper is gender neutral. That means heterosexual couples also could opt for a civil union license.

Why would they do that?

To save money.

Historically the federal tax code has contained what critics refer to as “the marriage penalty.” Although the marriage penalty has been softened in recent years, it’s still the case that married couples in some tax brackets still must pay more than they would if they were not married.

Because the federal government recognizes marriages and not civil unions, a married Colorado couple now has a way to avoid the federal tax penalty. They can obtain a civil union license, which maintains the legal status for community property and other important matters and then divorce — meaning that they would no longer be subject to the federal marriage penalty.

There is a touch of irony in this, because some of the same conservatives who have opposed civil unions also have campaigned against the marriage penalty for years.

How many civil union licenses will be granted statewide? Only time will tell.

Got a question? 
Contact Barry Noreen at 636-0363 
or at


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