LGBT criticism of Colorado civil union campaign as incrementalist
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.