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Colorado Enacts Designated Beneficiary Act

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin

Timothy Kincaid

April 9th, 2009

The Human Rights Campaign is reporting that HB 1260 Designated Beneficiary Act has been signed by Colorado Governor Bill Ritter.

The new law, which will take effect on July 1, will permit any two people – regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity – to enter into designated beneficiary agreements that confer specific legal rights and responsibilities, including the right to receive state employee pension benefits, the right to make medical decisions for an incapacitated partner, and the right to inherit if a partner dies without a will.

These rights will undoubtedly benefit sets of individuals, including same-sex couples, and for them I am appreciative. The opposition to this bill derided it as “marriage light” and clearly objected to the fact that it would make the lives of gay people easier.

However, I find reciprocal beneficiary plans troubling.

I believe that there is a benefit to society for intertwining romantic relationships and social obligations and that such relationships are not comparable to roommates or poker buddies. And one core purpose of reciprocal beneficiaries is to make darn sure that those eligible for them know that their relationships are legally devoid of love and romance. You may have some selected rights – but only as a set of individuals, not as a family.

And, looking at Hawaii as an illustration, it seems that providing for some few rights to any designated beneficiaries can create a legal limbo from which it is difficult to emerge.

In California and other states, couples were recognized first. They became families. And then succeeding legislatures could argue over exactly which benefits should be denied some families based solely on the gender of those comprising them. Over time, it became obvious that denial of specific benefits to same-sex couples that were granted to opposite-sex couples seemed based on arbitrary distinctions or bigotry and gradually the state benefits and obligations granted became identical.

In Hawaii, however, there are no same-sex couples – only individual persons who have some reciprocal benefits. And it is easy to argue that there should be benefits granted to couples that are denied to roommates; surely we would not grant joint custody or apply community property, for example.

So it’s not surprising that rather than a gradually increasing bundle of rights and obligations, over time Hawaii has actually removed benefits leaving them of little value. Which may well be why less than a tenth of one percent of Hawaiians even bothered to sign up.

But having “granted rights to those who can’t marry”, the otherwise liberal legislature of Hawaii feels content denying marriage rights to same-sex couples.

I do see this as an improvement for Coloradans; and likely this will not be the stopping point. So I am celebratory of this victory – especially for those who now will find their lives easier.

But it’s a very minor celebration.

Comments

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HappyCat
April 9th, 2009 | LINK

I will gladly add this to the victory list of the last 7 days. I believe it wont be long before the voters overturn the Hate amendment here in Colorado. which won by 55% to 45%.

For being a majority Red State 2004, to flipping the State government to Blue in 2006, adding to it in 2008, Colorado has come along way in a short time.

Donald Baxter
April 10th, 2009 | LINK

I’d like to see the states out of the marriage business entirely and while I’m from Iowa (City), and gay and am celebrating my state’s victory for equal marriage, what I really want is the state to sanction domestic partnerships totally separate from the institution of marriage. Those partnerships should be permitted as a legal means to provide benefits and inheritancy to anyone. Want to marry? Find a church. Just leave the government out of the business of solemnizing relationships

Kith
April 10th, 2009 | LINK

Every time I see the “I want the state out of the marriage business” canard I wonder is it really to “solve” the problem or is it to punish the religious?

Now then I remember when CA made marraige legal and they changed the from to Partner A Partner B and people had a hissy fit and sued. While I rolled my eyes at the idea, I saw people gloat, people where genuinely happy that people where upset. It showed how important these words where to the the subconscious, they expected more empathy from these people. Of course the prop 8 campaign used that partner A partner B as just another way to show how gays wanted to take marriage away from all the “good” people in the world.

Taking the government out of the “Marriage” business is pointless. Every law on the books going back to our founding talks of the civil partnership as marriage. You’d have to pass thousands of legal amendments to put all the laws in line with this “decisions” and for what gain? So we can give them the word marriage to the religious as their own special gift? To prove to the religious that the secularist’s real goal is take their marriage away from them? To as gay people sacrifice our place in society? To prove what they knew all along gays where lesser people who didn’t deserve the word marriage?

The truth is the government isn’t in the religious marriage business. They never wanted to get into that particular game. They just chose to recognize the unions that where formed in their country and for convince sake used the standard word for partnership and applied it to laws. Trust me, a civil marriage has no religious component in the eyes of the government, if it did common law marriage would/could never have even formed. I’ve officiated over 4 marriages just by filling out a form and paying some money, as to the religiousness of those four weddings one was a Discordian wedding where we served hot dogs without buns and called on Eris to bless the couple, one was a steam punk wedding where I was dressed as Marie Curie and one was a vampire wedding. Yeah some real powerful religious mojo there. Meanwhile those marriages are just as recognized by the government as my parent’s marriage which was conducted in a catholic church.

No we don’t need to get the government out of the marriage business, especially if we still want them to recognize unions in some form or another. We have to establish to the government and the people that the word marraige is just that a word, a word that has been used for a few hundred years to describe a close union between two things. It is not a sacred right, the church made a sacred right to join people and just like the government they took the most convenient word around which was marraige. Consider in Spanish the word they chose was “To shack up.”

Why do we make this so hard? When used by the government, it is a legal concept, the union of two people under the law, when used by the church it is the product of their sacred right of joining two people. When used by many in the literary world it is the joining of two objects,The marraige blood and steel, poetry and art, form and function.

I’ve always joked of the idea of “taking it back” when applied to language. But seriously I think this is a case where we need to “take the word marriage back.” It was not the sole providence of religious people or religious institution, it belong to society, it is a word that belongs to all of us, it is a part of the human condition and until someone can invent a better word that holds all the meanings of marraige to both the conscious and subconscious I do not wish to willing relinquish my ownership of the word as a human being. Not to punish a group of people, not to make this argument easier to win, not to make it easier to get along with immature religious people who can’t learn how to share.

Sorry for the rant and potential derail, but I’ve seen this concept too much and all really this is the core of the “civil union” or “Partner benefits” argument.

Zeke
April 10th, 2009 | LINK

It’s ironic that the more people try to “protect” marriage by inventing all of these “like marriage” institutions that AREN’T marriage the more they create institutions that aren’t marriage that straight people are opting for and hence weakening and breaking down the significance of heterosexual marriage.

How interesting that the fight to “protect” marriage, and those who are doing everything in their power to keep gay people from participating in it, are the very things, and the very people, that most threaten to actually destroy it.

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