FORT COLLINS - Gay rights advocates will seek to overturn Colorado's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage by ballot initiative in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling Tuesday that overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Colorado House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, is the first openly gay man to hold that title in the Legislature. He said gay-rights groups led by One Colorado are in the process of building a coalition behind a movement to repeal the ban on gay marriage that Colorado voters added to the state constitution in 2006 defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
He expects voters in Colorado will be asked to overturn the ban by the end of this decade, barring a lawsuit that could render the initiative unnecessary.
"The change in people's opinions around marriage equality has been rapid," he said. "It depends on how quickly a coalition could be built and how we can get the support of the ballot box. We want to make sure we have the strongest coalition and the best chance of winning at the ballot to overturn the ban."
"I think it's likely to be done before the end of the decade. By the end of the decade, we'll see a ballot initiative unless there's a court decision that makes it unnecessary."
This year the Colorado Legislature passed a law enabling gay couples to enter civil unions. It provides some protections similar to marriage, such as inheritance rights, medical decision-making, a legal structure for dissolution of relationships and shared parental rights and financial responsibilities.
However, civil unions existed outside the federal law because of DOMA. Consequently, Social Security and military benefits and the ability to file federal taxes jointly were not available to couples in civil unions.
Ferrandino said it is too soon to say whether tweaks to the new Colorado law are in order based on the Supreme Court's ruling on DOMA, but more likely, changes in federal law would be needed before civil union spouses in Colorado could tap into federal benefits.
Whether by legal challenge or ballot question, the push for gay marriage in Colorado is certain to take time and incite its share of rancor, Ferrandino said.
"That's part of the reason we did civil unions now," he said. "We knew people need some protections now, but we'll continue to fight for full marriage equality. We will continue to review the decision and what it means for Colorado and our civil union law."
(Copyright © 2013 Fort Collins Coloradoan, All Rights Reserved)