Thursday, March 28, 2013

Civil Unions Become Law in Colorado

On March 21, 2013, Governor John Hickenlooper signed the Colorado Civil Union Act into law, which will become effective as of May 1, 2013. A civil union may be entered into by any two adults (regardless of gender), and will function as the legal Colorado equivalent of marriage. Couples wishing to enter into a civil union must go to their local clerk and recorder and file a license, and the officiant then files a civil union certificate to verify the union. Please note that a civil union will supercede any recorded beneficiary designation.

Although civil unions are not marriage (the Colorado constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman only), all of Colorado state laws will apply to partners in a civil union as they do spouses. Partners will have the same statutory rights and responsibilities as spouses. If partners wish to end their civil union, they will have to obtain a legal dissolution of the union, and will be subject to the current laws regarding maintenance, parenting time, child support, and property division. All of the same rights at death will apply to a surviving partner. Just as with marriage, partners in a civil union may enter into an agreement to modify the rights of each partner at both death and divorce.

Despite the change in Colorado law, the federal law is currently unchanged. The federal government has the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was signed into law in 1996, and defines marriage as only between a man and a woman, and denies federal law coverage for those that have married in a state which has legalized same-sex marriage. This means that for federal law, such as income taxation, social security benefits, estate and gift rules, and federal spousal benefits, partners in a civil union will be treated as if they are both single people. On March 27th, the U.S. Supreme Court considered a case which will be decided based upon the constitutionality of DOMA. Even if the Court decides DOMA is unconsitutional, it is unclear if federal law will apply to partners in a civil union.