Atmosphere

The Slow March

Will gay marriage become legal in Colorado?

August 2009

Seventeen years ago this November, Coloradans went to the voting booth and pulled the lever for Amendment 2, which legalized discrimination against gay citizens. Although the constitutional amendment never went into effect—it was overturned by both the Colorado Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court—Colorado earned the nickname "The Hate State."

A generation later, Colorado has become one of the most gay-friendly states in the country, and certainly in the Rocky Mountain West. Though we haven't legalized gay marriage like Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Iowa, Colorado is open-minded compared to the early 1990s: Earlier this year, the Colorado Legislature and Governor Bill Ritter extended more rights to gay couples, guaranteeing end-of-life decisions for gay partners and allowing state employees to share health insurance with their partners.

Conservatives have called these moves an end run around the will of the voters. Three years ago, Coloradans passed Amendment 43, which enshrined a gay-marriage ban in the state constitution, and voted down Referendum I, which would have legalized domestic partnerships. Ritter, though, seems to have embraced the zeitgeist: Recent polls show that 56 percent of Coloradans support civil unions. Support for gay marriage is also rising steadily: 47 percent of Coloradans would now legalize it, and according to analysis done by polling whiz Nate Silver (of www.fivethirtyeight.com fame), a majority of Coloradans will likely support gay marriage by 2010.

Still, short of the Colorado Supreme Court overturning Amendment 43's gay-marriage ban, Coloradans will have to vote for another constitutional amendment to reverse it. That's already in the works, as a young, straight Colorado couple, Stu Allen and Crystal Russell, have introduced an initiative for the November 2010 ballot. "This is our generation's civil rights movement," says Allen. "It's time for our country to wake up to what's happening. We are talking about people's basic rights, and the longer we oppress [them], the worse history will remember us."