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Legislative Update SB11-172 Civil Unions Bill

By Mike Maday

 

TheMAC Support for Civil Unions: Wrong Side of the Vote, Right Side of History: Report from Mike Maday

theMAC Legislative Chair on SB11-172

I opened the Denver Post Friday and read “dozens” of people attended the hearing Thursday on the Civil Unions Bill. I was there, representing theMAC. The hearing was held in the Old Supreme Court room, the biggest room in the Capital, which seats 300 people. At the start people were standing 5 deep in the back of the room. The fire marshal cleared some of the people standing in the back and they filled two overflow rooms. Lots of dozens. Biased reporting or the Post’s April Fool? One person who attends many hearings at the Capital said it was the most people at a hearing he has ever seen. The Civil Union Bill was killed on a straight party line vote, Republicans against, Democrats for.

I spent over eight hours straight, no breaks, testifying for Civil Unions on behalf of theMAC but mostly listening to testimony on the Civil Unions Bill, SB11-172. There were hours and hours of overwhelming and compelling testimony for Civil Unions. It made me proud to be a Coloradan.

The vast numbers and great assortment of Coloradans who testified for the Bill convinced me that civil unions are inevitable and will come soon. The discussion in that large room was full of hope. And as an organization I think it was important theMAC weighed in on this issue. We took a stand as an organization on the right side of history, even though we were on the losing side of a vote. When civil unions are recognized by Colorado law, as they are in eleven states currently, with four states and DC having statutes legalizing gay marriage, Colorado will join the list of states who recognize relationships, gay and straight, that widely exist among our citizens but are currently not well covered by our laws. According to the failed Bill, Colorado dissolution statutes would have applied to civil unions in essentially the same way they now apply to marriage, allowing the protection of the law to be consistently applied to partners in civil unions and their children. Projections for Colorado based on statistics from other states indicate this would result in hundreds of cases for Colorado mediators annually.

Probably 75 individuals testified in support of this Bill, ranging from the head of HR at C2MHill to representatives of small businesses to health care providers to CPAs to many, many people currently in relationships that would have been covered by civil unions. More people testifying for the Bill identified themselves as Republicans than Independents or Democrats. So theMAC was in good company and when civil unions become law we will be known as having stood with the future for Coloradans and our members.

Our support for this legislation moved quickly as did the Bill. TheMAC Legislative Committee met by phone and unanimously voted to recommend our Board support the legislation and the Board voted unanimously, with one abstention, to support the legislation. I testified two days later. I’d like to thank members of the Legislative Committee and the Board who responded quickly to this legislation. And thanks to all MAC members who contacted their legislators to express their opinions on civil unions. Below is a summary of my testimony compiled after the discussion of the Bill in theMAC Legislative committee.

Testimony Regarding the Mediation Association of Colorado

Support for SB11-172, Civil Unions

Presented by Michael J. Maday, MSW

Chair, Legislative Committee,

the Mediation Association of Colorado

719.471.0970 resresco@att.net

March 31, 2011

• Our support of this legislation does not constitute support of gay marriage. This Bill specifically defines civil unions as not being marriage and civil unions will apply to both gay and straight couples.

• Mediators will not be compelled by the legislation to mediate civil union cases if they do not wish to, based on personal or religious believes or for other reasons.

• Our support of this legislation helps forward theMAC mission to “promote the use and understanding of mediation”. TheMAC strives to make quality dispute resolution services, including mediation, available to all Coloradans. This Bill will allow for dissolution of civil union cases to be referred to mediation in the same manner as dissolution of marriage cases are currently referred. Based on the number of civil unions granted in Vermont between 2000 and 2009, (Vermont is the first of 11 states to legislate civil unions or domestic partnerships), a rough estimate is that somewhere on the order of 300-500 mediation cases for dissolution or post decree actions concerning civil unions could take place annually in Colorado.

Civil unions will bring into the light of day relationships that so far are not well addressed by Colorado law. MAC members mediate cases through small claims courts, protection orders and property claims in County and District court that are in reality mediation of the break up of relationships that will be covered by this civil union statute. The problem is that these cases come to mediation in a haphazard and inconsistent manner, addressing only a very small percentage of these cases. Because Colorado law doesn’t appropriately address these cases they are often settled informally between the parties, resulting in one party being taken advantage of by the other. And in other cases the relationship between a psychological parent and a child is inappropriately severed, resulting in emotional damage to the parent and child. These cases also may result in a parent avoiding child support and health insurance obligations resulting in costs to Colorado taxpayers in terms of Medicaid, welfare and food stamp qualification for these children.