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.”