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LGBT criticism of Colorado civil union campaign as incrementalist

A commentary

Daniel Gonzales

December 23rd, 2010

Senator Pat Steadman recently announced a campaign for civil unions in the 2011 legislative session.  The first opposition from within the LGBT community appeared today in this Denver Post guest commentary:

We were legally married in San Francisco on Sept. 25, 2008, and we introduce ourselves as each other’s husbands. We are appalled that anyone, especially members of the gay community, would be willing to settle, much less offer to settle, for anything less than full marriage equality.


…we are putting our Lakewood home on the market to finance our efforts and we plan to take our fight back to federal court if necessary.

First bravo to Carllon and Martinez for the sacrifices they are making to fight for marriage equality.  This isn’t mentioned in their article but Carllon was among those arrested for blocking the entrance to the Episcopal Church national convention at a Denver Soulforce event in July of 2000 according to local organizer Chris Hubble.

However as an activist myself I don’t expect everyone in the community to make the same sacrifices I choose to.

LGBT Coloradans and their families will benefit immediately from protections that civil unions would provide.  I try not to think about how long we will wait until Colorado voters are prepared to overturn the state’s marriage amendment or until Carllon and Martinez’ lawsuit might bear fruit in a glacial federal court system.

In One Colorado’s 2010 statewide LGBT survey more than one quarter of respondents earn less than $25,000 per year (source).

Consider for example my friend and fellow activist Christine Bakke who is getting married next month.  After reading the Denver Post commentary Christine reacted:

[Colorado’s] Designated beneficiaries and the Denver domestic partnership cost us I think $50 to file.  We’re on a limited budget and can’t easily pick up and go to another state to get married when it won’t be recognized here. Nor can we pull money out of our pocket to pay for a lawyer to put in place the stuff that a civil union or marriage would give us.

Jessica Woodrum, Communications Manager at One Colorado, provided comment by email about the real prospects of full marriage equality in Colorado currently:

The path to marriage equality in Colorado is difficult.  Unlike other states that have achieved marriage equality, our state constitution contains an amendment that bans marriage for same-sex couples.  Until this amendment is overturned in the courts or by a ballot vote of Colorado voters, full marriage equality is not possible in Colorado.

One Colorado supports full marriage equality, but we believe that same-sex couples need the critical protections that civil unions provide right now.  Especially in these tough economic times, we must ensure that all Coloradans have the tools they need to provide for the ones they love.

Are you sick of the financial argument at this point?  Moving on…

Carllon and Martinez assert that incrementalism will impair progress to full equality:

So what will a civil unions bill accomplish other than to cede the fight for full equality?

There can be no substitute for equality and it cannot be achieved incrementally, as we have learned from the failed “don’t ask, don’t tell” law. If the gay community is willing to accept the crumbs off the marriage table, they may never see the cake.

This is grossly inaccurate and the last decade of LGBT rights legislative action across the nation is proof.

Vermont, Washington DC, California, New Hampshire and Connecticut all had some form of civil unions or domestic partnerships before making a move to full marriage equality.  Maryland which currently has domestic partnerships appears ready to legislate full marriage in 2011.

And nearly half the states that currently have trans-inclusive nondiscrimination laws achieved them through incrementalism. (i.e. passing sexual orientation protection one year and later adding gender identity) Here’s the data.


I don’t believe any LGBT leader in Colorado finds civil unions to be an acceptable final or permanent solution.  Nor do I believe civil unions will delay the path to full equality. Instead civil unions will prime Colorado voters to accept full marriage equality.  A significant portion of Colorado’s LGBT community (including people I care about) are tremendously vulnerable, and civil unions would go a long way to help improve their lives. But it seems to me unfair and perhaps unintentionally out of touch for Carllon and Martinez to ask the most vulnerable Coloradans to sacrifice for the activist ideals of another person.



December 23rd, 2010 | LINK

I’m all for same sex marriage, and I consider civil unions to be the modern version of “separate but equal”.

But it seems to me, just as segregation was far better than slavery, civil unions are better than nothing at all. Take a few lessons from the black civil rights playbook, take what you can get, while you keep speaking out and pushing for full marriage equality.

It WILL happen.

Will it be easy? No. Nor will it be quick or painless. But it WILL be worth the struggle.

December 24th, 2010 | LINK

Half a loaf is better than no bread at all.

And the analogy to DADT being a ‘compromise’ – nonsense on stilts. DADT was actually made it worse for gay servicemembers, enshrining a witch hunt into law.

December 24th, 2010 | LINK

As someone who is legally married I can tell you I would jump at the chance of a civil union that meant something over a marriage that is, practically speaking, meaningless. We live in NY State and our Canadian marriage has been blessed by the governor but it has no legal meaning at all in terms of inheritance (we’re not rich but own a house), social security, taxes, etc. Separate but equal is an unfortunate historical construct that really works against us in this instance and should not be invoked. A robust civil union would be far superior to what we have now. We never wanted to marry in a church and would be more than happy to have a quiet ceremony in a court. I think this is a terrible mistake that smacks to me of teabaggerism.

December 24th, 2010 | LINK

We here in Virginia would love to have even a half-loaf than no loaf at all. I’m sure most Coloradans feel the same.

December 24th, 2010 | LINK

As someone from IL where civil union legislation is to be signed by the governor after the new year, I have best wished for the activists from CO but encourage them not to let a good become the enemy of the perfect. One day (two or three days?) after after passage of our Civil Union bill, all parties pro- and con- were already saying that full marriage legislation was next. It may take awhile for marriage, but the civil union legislation that was able to be passed now is better that nothing until marriage is possible.

December 24th, 2010 | LINK

This is why I have long stopped supporting the HRC and some other gay rights groups.

The path to legal equality takes time and has pit stops. Civil unions and other laws that give us incremental progress are pit stops that provides families the protections they need TODAY.

Marriage will come.


You are completely wrong on DADT – gay men and women could not serve in the military at all before DADT. DADT allowed them to. It was an imperfect compromise but it was one stepping stone for gay men and women to be able to serve in the military.

December 24th, 2010 | LINK

Domestic partnership and civil unions are steps along the way to marriage equality, and they provide important legal and financial protections. DP legislation let my wife be on my insurance long before we were able to get married in California.

Just ten years ago when civil unions started in Vermont, we heard all sorts of sky-is-falling rhetoric about how it was going to destroy heterosexual marriage. Now it’s the compromise position for conservatives. As people get used to civil unions, all the previous objections to same-sex marriage become too weak to stand.

Priya Lynn
December 24th, 2010 | LINK

Tim said “@AdrianT: You are completely wrong on DADT – gay men and women could not serve in the military at all before DADT. DADT allowed them to. It was an imperfect compromise but it was one stepping stone for gay men and women to be able to serve in the military.”.

Actually, DADT was pretty much the same as the situation before DADT. Before DADT gays could serve if they hid their orientation. After DADT gays could serve if they hid there orientation. DADT didn’t really change anything at all.

December 24th, 2010 | LINK

I know this will irritate a bunch of people but I am going to point it out anyway.

The whining and infighting is a perfect example of what Democrats do, consistently, on issues. Compared to Republican behavior this is just self-deluding, ridiculous and self-destructive

Get behind the person pushing for this legislation. Don’t whine “itain’t enough, give me more, it’s too inconvenient for me” until you get what is available!

Another way to put it is, that leading Democrats is like herding Cats!

Those people who do this (whining) don’t care about anything or anyone but themselves and are willing to sabotage the efforts of their own party to prove that point.

You should also take note of the recent 9th Circuit hearing on Prop 8, even the most liberal of the judges questioned whether a constitutional claim existed in states existed if that state had never allowed any gay union rights. The consensus is that it would be harder to make a constitutional claim in those states.

What that means in reality is that having legal Civil Unions will strengthen the inevitable legal position that disallowing SSM is discriminatory under your own state laws.

For those of you who can’t get to another state because you are too broke to get a southwest flight to Iowa or Vermont, GET A PART TIME JOB!, sell cookies, create a facebook page “wedding registry” style and ask for airfare donations instead of gifts, sell avon, or have a yard sale, HELL mow yards or get a paper route!

there tons of things anyone can do to earn/raise extra cash if they truly want it bad enough. That part time job at Mickey D’s is NOT beneath your dignity and putting in an extra 20 hours a week of work is not going to kill you. Almost everyone can do some or all of those things IF YOU WANT TO GET WHAT YOUR GOAL IS.

otherwise you are just whining and the rest of us are tired of it!

Priya Lynn
December 24th, 2010 | LINK

Mikenola said “For those of you who can’t get to another state because you are too broke to get a southwest flight to Iowa or Vermont, GET A PART TIME JOB!”.

That’s pretty naieve.

December 24th, 2010 | LINK

As the partner of Christine Bakke, let me make it very clear that there is not any whining from us about going to another state to get married. Getting on a plane is doable. For us, it clearly does not make any sense to go somewhere else to get legally married when said legal marriage would not be recognized in Colorado. And yes, it is pretty naive to assume “For those of you who can’t get to another state because you are too broke to get a southwest flight to Iowa or Vermont, GET A PART TIME JOB!”

We are fortunate enough to live in a state that offers designated beneficiary rights to us and that is huge compared to many other states. Do we think it is enough… no. Do we understand that the road to marriage equality is not an easy one… yes. It does and will continue to take baby steps and we are both willing participants in the process. We are dismayed at the infighting, as well and believe it to only detract from the process.

Our marriage (and we are calling it that, legal or not) will not be any less than a marriage of a heterosexual couple except in the eyes of the government (the rights we are not afforded) and many in the religious realm. We will make sure that every legality offered to us is in place and a lawyer will make a lot of money to get there. With that being said, no person can make it less than, they can say it is, but that does not make it so. We will celebrate in spite of it and because we refuse to hide. We know what our commitment is, those who surround us are witness to our commitment. Really, in the end, a piece of paper does not make a commitment, yet would go a long way in what is fair and good and equal.

December 24th, 2010 | LINK

Mikenola, I couldn’t agree more with a lot of what you have to say. I wouldn’t characterize it as whining necessarily but whatever it is it is certainly counterproductive. If all of us who complain about the lack of marriage rights where we live went somewhere and got legally married it would be a big step forward. Failing that, get a civil union. The more of us who are in recognized unions/marriages the harder it will be to deny our right to a legal and fair status – whatever that status turns out to be – at the federal level, which is the only place that it counts.

December 24th, 2010 | LINK

Civil unions would give my marriage – in Colorado – much more security than it has today (not everyone is clearly male or female – and yet there are plenty of marriages where one partner is in the “gray” area, and the marriage is at risk simply because nobody bothered defining male or female in the law). To be frank, civil unions are a good thing for anyone who has (or their partner has) difficulty fitting into the binary gender classification system.

I don’t think it will be perfect, and I’m still praying and hoping that Prop 8 will not only be overturned by the SCOTUS but also that SCOTUS will make it quite clear that marriage is a human right throughout the country. I think that’s our best hope.

December 24th, 2010 | LINK

Daniel asked:

“Are you sick of the financial argument at this point? ”

No, but it’s not an emphatic “no”; more of an everyday annoyed “no”. I feel nickeled and dimed to death even while being legally married in California. There are *two* diabled people in my house – my husband at age 87 and me who has been deaf for 30 years. We lived solely upon my husband’s income. He’s old enough to get medicare but I’m not and I have NO health insurance. I would matter a GREAT deal if he could declare me as a dependent on our federal taxes. It would be a HUGE (for us) income bump. We’re done to a doubllewide trailer and a car and ZERO social life including dining out. Our income is FIXED. Every little thing helps, Daniel. Here it is Christmas eve, I have $172.00 in the bank and we simply didn’t do any Christmas shopping. I have (basic) cable internet access as the ONE accomodation to my deafness and it would be the first to go before I’d stop phone service that my spouse can use (but I can’t)


Don’t start that meme that you’re tired of the financial argument.

December 24th, 2010 | LINK

So…why can’t they do both? Let Steadman (or any senator so inclined) introduce the bill and let the activists go through the court system for full equality. Win Win. Either way, through the courts or through legislation, we will get there and having options lets everyone do their bit where they feel most comfortable.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that civil unions are ‘separate but equal’ and as long as DOMA is on the books it’s more like ‘partial rights’ instead of ‘equal rights’ but civil unions make a difference today, which is the important part, so more power to you Senator Steadman, but I’m also a purist, so go go Carllon and Martinez.

(heh, how’s that for bipartisanship?)

December 24th, 2010 | LINK

Riva, are you married?

December 24th, 2010 | LINK

As someone living in Colorado (Congrats T and Christine, btw) I have to say that I would take whatever rights I can get, however incremental.

I was watching a program about how loggers cut down the big redwoods in California, first they cut a section so that they could stand on a split of wood so they could get high enough to get past the swell and then they would start whacking at the tree from two sides in order to knock it down. (not counting the guys that had to climb to the top to knock off that section)

Lack of marriage equality is our Redwood and likewise we will need to cut it down in sections. Eventually it will come down.

Mihangel apYrs
December 25th, 2010 | LINK


blessings on this Yuletide day.

The financial and legal arguments are the only relevent ones for me and my partner.

We’ve been together some 36 years this month, BUT only were able to get a civil partnershiip in the UK 5 years ago, so all the romantic guff of first-in-loves had eroded away leaving a foundation of love and respect.

Everything we’ve got is jointly paid for and owned, but the things we had to do to keep grasping relatives from having any claims were not straightforward.

In closing, I will not be so impudent as to say count your blessings, you probably do, but I will say that it will get better, the world is turning more our way daily.

December 25th, 2010 | LINK

Between the Appalachians and the Sierras or Coastal Range, every real little bit of gay rights is hard to get. South of the Potomac as well.

I’m glad for every advance. Sure, everything short of marriage equality is insufficient. But every real gain is worth something in the lives of people.

Mihangel apYrs
December 25th, 2010 | LINK

cd et al:

immediate and total equality is of course the ideal, but I’m content with incrementalism if it’s the only way. The idea that we become less and less the “other” will bring peple round, (I hope)

As we’re seen to be people just the same ultimately as everyone else people’s inate civility will kick in. As a species co-operation is a survival feature ingrained in our instincts and genes: few want conflict.

To all a Merry Christmas, and to all a good time

Timothy Kincaid
December 25th, 2010 | LINK

Sometimes our quest for equality seems a bit like the children’s game “Mother May I?” A ‘giant step forward’ can be followed by ‘two steps backward’ and every movement seems to require a great deal of deferential pleading for what should be our due. But, in time, we will get there.

Jason D
December 28th, 2010 | LINK

what I never quite understand is the straight people who really want civil unions and are all about this issue.

They’re usually atheists or non-conformists of some variety that don’t quite grasp that “marriage” was neither created by, nor is it owned by religion. They can get married by Elvis at a Casino and it’s just as legal as any other marriage out there.
They also don’t seem to understand the trajectory. Civil Unions now will be transformed to Full Marriage later, either by legislative changes or judicial decisions. CU/DP are a temporary solution. They’re duct tape.
So just get your civil marriage and be happy you’re not a gay couple who has to fight just to get half a loaf of bread. You’ve got an entire breadbasket on your table, don’t be coming over here getting jealous of our day-old, half-eaten crusts of bread.

Priya Lynn
December 28th, 2010 | LINK

Jason said “They’re usually atheists or non-conformists of some variety that don’t quite grasp that “marriage” was neither created by, nor is it owned by religion.”.

I think you’ll be pretty hard pressed to find any atheist who doesn’t grap that marriage was neither created by nor is owned by religion.

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