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Watching Colorado: Gay Rights Strategy Could Become a Model for Change August 8, 2006

Posted by newsfittopost in amendments, domestic partnerships, lgbt Issues, marriage equality.
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Colorado residents will vote on a number of same-sex union initiatives when they reach the ballot box this November. It is part of a new strategy on behalf of Coloradans for Fairness & Equality and the Gill Foundation to give voters the opportunity to protect same-sex couples even if they support a proposed anti-marriage equality amendment.

Anti-gay activists’ petition drive to ban domestic partnerships failed to collect enough signatures and will not appear on the ballot. But three other initiatives did make the cut:

  • Constitutional Amendment to Ban Marriage Equality: This now classic ballot proposal will attempt to write discrimination into the constitution by banning same-sex marriage through an amendment.
  • Referendum 1 – Domestic Partnerships: Proposed by Colorado lawmakers, this initiative aims to give same-sex couples many of the rights and responsibilities of married couples through domestic partnerships.
  • Domestic Partnership Amendment: This initiative proposed by Coloradans for Fairness & Equality would write domestic partnerships law into the state constitution. The amendment would ensure that anti-gay forces could not constantly threaten to take away same-sex couples’ rights through ballot initiatives or legislation. The Domestic Partnership Amendment would clarify that domestic partnerships are not the same as marriage.

Assuming voters understand the purpose of the ballot initiatives, which may be a big assumption, there is a good chance all three measures will be voted into law. LGBT advocates in Colorado have decided to forgo the failed strategy of so many other states: throw all your money into opposing an anti-marriage equality amendment that is destined to pass anyways.

Instead, Colorado LGBT groups have decided to provide voters who don’t support marriage equality with an alternative to protect same-sex couples: domestic partnerships. Polling consistently shows broad support for domestic partnerships and even civil unions, so those who enter the ballot box and vote against marriage may find domestic partnerships to be a fair compromise. In more moderate or conservative states, focusing on domestic partnerships instead of defeating the marriage amendment may prove an important strategy for achieving incremental social change in the face of tremendous opposition.

Most Americans are decent people. They may not understand LGBT people and they may think God does not approve, but most do not want same-sex couples to suffer. Those who understand the purpose of domestic partnerships, but oppose marriage equality, may be half-guilted into voting for the measure.

Many LGBT advocates are angry with Colorado groups for not vigorously opposing the anti-marriage equality amendment, but it is important to remember the purpose of social justice groups. LGBT groups are supposed to fight for the rights and protections of LGBT people and to secure them as quick as possible. We can not always work on principles alone… it would be shameful for gay rights advocates to deny LGBT families the vital protections of domestic partnerships in favor of fighting an anti-marriage equality amendment that would undoubtedly succeed.

The court rulings of the past few weeks have forced us to realize that marriage equality will be a long and difficult struggle. In the meantime, it is important to obtain as many protections as possible in the shortest amount of time. If the strategy in Colorado plays out as many are hoping, I expect to see it emulated in many other parts of the country.

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