Same-sex partners enter civil unions, say they validate their bond

Same-sex couples with self-defining ideas on sexuality made history in Denver last week when hundreds sought a government seal on their relationship.

The battle against legalized civil unions failed this year after a Colorado law went into effect midnight May 1 making it possible for same-sex couples to apply for a license at the Wellington E. Webb building downtown.

J.D. Flynn, chancellor of the Denver Archdiocese, said it’s a display of changing ideas of marriage between one man and one woman.

“Marriage isn’t a self-defining principle,” he said. “The meaning of our relationships is defined by God’s love.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper told the Denver Catholic Register that civil unions are about civil rights.

“We aren’t telling churches who they can marry or not marry,” he wrote. “We are saying all people should have the same legal rights. Civil rights, just like civil unions, should apply to everyone equally under our state’s law.”

The Denver Clerk and Recorder’s Office gave licenses to 114 gay and lesbian couples who wanted to be among Colorado’s first—96 completed the forms and 85 exchanged vows in a crowded room of gay rights advocates and politicians.

The Register was there to interview these couples.

Markallen Sniff, 33, applied for a license with his partner.

“Having the state government recognize our union—it’s like some sort of validation,” he said.

For others, it was a matter of business.

“We feel like we’re married already. It’s just making it legal,” said Vicki Porter.

A civil union is simply “two people who are committed to one another and love each other,” said her partner Mary Doyen. It’s no different from a marriage between a heterosexual couple, they said, and should be called as such.

“This is an immature idea,” Flynn commented. “History, faith, philosophy and psychology all point to the fact that sexuality is at the core of human identity. It’s short-sighted to suggest that the government should be in the business of endorsing a kind of love which yields no fruit and which serves no one.”

Others said the state definition of their relationship is less important than obtaining marriage benefits.

Sniff and his partner, Brandon Zelasko, 29, applied for a license after Zelasko “proposed” by writing “Are you going to civil union me?” on an application.

“The rights are what I want,” Zelasko said. “To me, if it’s the name people are getting hung up on, it’s unfortunate. You can call it whatever you want to call it. I want my rights.”

Doyen echoed this saying, “And we feel like we’re entitled to those as well.”

According to Citizen Link, a Focus on the Family affiliate, such rights are already available via the Colorado Designated Beneficiary Agreement Act of 2009. Involvement in medical decisions, child adoption, hospital visits, and sharing of financial benefits are allowed under state law.

If these benefits are available, why push for gay marriage?

“It’s not just about the legal rights, it’s also about acknowledgment of our love for each other,” said Yvonne Lopez of her and her partner of 35 years, Sharon Chacon. “Our relationship is just as valid as anyone else’s.”

It is valid, but society’s task is not to acknowledge a relationship merely because it exists, Flynn said. Friendships are important, but marriages are given certain rights because society depends on it.

The 35th couple to get a license, George Kacenga and Andrés Cladera, said civil unions are a stepping stone to marriage equality.

What about equality for other types of relationships like polygamy?

The couple hesitated.

“Traditionally, two people coming together in a relationship is the norm. When we talk about three people, that’s stepping beyond that border,” Kacenga said.

The pair bantered about marriage norms, but concluded they’re open to dialogue on unions involving polygamists or blood-related couples.

“It’s a state of being, and I would not be able to fall in love with you and another man the same way,” Cladera said. “That doesn’t mean for other people it wouldn’t (be possible).”

Flynn replied that people don’t have the ability to make these determinations.

David Duffield, a self-described gay man at the gathering, said civil unions are the tipping point. If consensus allows, polygamy will be legal.

Flynn has similar predictions.

“We have decided socially that we will endorse relationships which are not fundamentally about procreation,” he said. “From that point we might as well endorse all kinds of relationships.”

The Catholic bishops of Colorado stated same-sex attracted people should not be judged but treated with dignity and love.

Flynn added: “We are not morally superior to people with same sex attraction. All of us struggle with different crosses. We really should reach out in solidarity with the liberating message of Jesus Christ, because those who suffer with difficult crosses are those who need that message the most.”

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.