Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Civil unions in Colorado in place; groups push for marriage equality

By Megan Schrader Updated: November 3, 2013 at 11:44 am

Sarah Musick and Erika Highstead-Musick expected their civil union in May to be a mere formality, a pushing of legal paper that could never compare with the ceremonial wedding they had shared a year earlier.

"We've been waiting a long time for civil unions to pass," said Sarah, who has been with Erika for seven years. "We joined in the big group ceremony in Manitou Springs and it was really powerful, it was more than we expected it to be. It was really a moving experience for us."

The couple shared tears as they became among the first same-sex couples in Colorado to be granted many of the same legal recognitions as heterosexual married couples.

It's been six months since a Colorado law creating civil unions took effect and there have been 1,441 civil unions across the state, according to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment statistics.

Of those, 219 have been couples in El Paso County, according to the El Paso County Clerk and Recorders Office.

Some of those unions haven't worked out. According to the Colorado Judicial Department 48 cases have been filed for civil union dissolutions across the state and another four have been declared invalid and there have two legal separations.

But only six months after parties were held across the state to welcome a new level of equality for same sex couples, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is looking forward.

"We know civil unions do provide protections, but they do fall short," said Jon Monteith, spokesman for One Colorado. "They aren't fully equal. It's wrong to be denied the same legal status as other married couples. We should be treated fairly under the law."

One Colorado is in the middle of a statewide listening tour that is broaching the subject of marriage equality and exploring the pathway forward.

Monteith said bringing marriage equality to Colorado could take several approaches - a statewide ballot initiative or a legal challenge in courts, but any step would require the repeal of Amendment 43, a voter-approved law defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Two women in Adams County applied for a marriage license but were denied and instead provided an application for a civil union. They filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging the state ban on same-sex marriage.

"Plantiffs rejected the civil union application because a civil union is not the same as a marriage," says the lawsuit filed by Rebecca Brinkman and Margaret Burd, who have been together for 34 years.

Highstead-Musick, who is 8 months pregnant, said she has already experienced the benefits of the legal status provided by civil unions, but she has also discovered the law's shortcomings.

"We went to the hospital where we're going to give birth and I was filling out the form to include Sarah . and there was no push back at all about having Sarah wear that second wristband," said Highstead-Musick, who is a nurse in Colorado Springs. "There were a couple options on the form: mother and other, mother and partner and mother and mother, that's the one I chose."

That was a big improvement for Erika, who once was unable to go into the emergency room with Sarah during a medical emergency.

But Sarah still is not eligible to get on Erika's health insurance plan because it is one administered under federal law not state law.

If the couple were to go to a state that recognizes same-sex marriages and get a license, the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act would mandate they be provided the same health insurance options as other couples.

Instead, they are hoping for reform in Colorado or on the national level to cover them.

Until then, Erika and Sarah said they are grateful to have the protections of civil unions for their family, which includes their unborn child and a 9-year old son Jack.

Contact Megan Schrader

719-286-0644

Twitter: @CapitolSchrader

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