UPDATE: A state legislative hearing last week over the removal of marriage language in the state tax code emerged as a debate about equality for same-sex couples.
Senate Bill 19 has found vehement support and approval—and some votes from disinterested legislators—as it has traveled through the Senate and the House for its proposal to change the terms “husband,” “wife” and “spouse” into “two taxpayers.”
The bill will be voted on in the House early this week.
Opponents decry the bill’s effort to insert marriage-neutral terms into Colorado law, arguing that the state’s constitution explicitly defines marriage between a man and woman.
Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Arapahoe, voted against the bill and said, “I’m really distressed by the striking of ‘spouse,’ ‘husband’ and ‘wife.’”
Proponents fought back and said federal law changed requiring same-sex couples, who file joint federal returns, to also file joint state returns. The state Department of Revenue made an emergency ruling in November to accommodate the new federal law since Colorado law contradicts it.
The emergency ruling is valid for 120 days and will permit same-sex couples only married out-of-state to file joint state returns.
Rep. Joann Ginal, D-Larimer, said homosexual couples want marriage equality.
“It clarifies how same-sex couples will comply to the income tax law and codes, and allows equal treatment to gays and lesbians as it does to heterosexual couples,” she said. “All we want is equality.”
Other committee members argued it’s simply tax policy.
“I don’t think filing joint tax returns is integral to marriage or directly related to marriage,” said Rep. Dan Kagan. “It’s a tax policy and that’s all it is. Let’s not make more of it.”
During testimony, Mark Thrun, a Denver Public Health physician, expressed his opinion in favor of the emergency ruling, which he said was more than tax policy as it gave him and his partner the recognition he believes they deserve.
Although they pay more income taxes by filing jointly, he said the bill “would eliminate confusion and reduce the burden on Colorado for those like us who want to be recognized for who are.”
Rep. Lori Saine, R-Weld, said the bill is unconstitutional.
“Our voters said this is the definition of marriage,” she said referring to the constitutional amendment defining marriage. “(This bill) honors a contract out-of-state that is expressly prohibited in our state.”
In another testimony, Gary Hooper, an accounting manager at St. Thomas More Parish in Centennial, said the bill will impact state coffers and yields no monetary benefit for couples filing individually or jointly.
From an attorney perspective, Catholic lawyer Rebecca Messall argued the bill contravenes the state constitution.
“Marriage is not the product of legislators in the government,” she said. “SB-19 defies the will of voters.”
Jenny Kraska, director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, said the bill doesn’t respect the constitutional definition of marriage. While a solution is needed for couples filing jointly, this bill is not a solution that respects the constitution, Kraska said.
Rather, it’s back-door way to erode at the definition of marriage, she said.
If passed, the bill would codify and reinforce the state Department of Revenue’s ruling.
Know Your Legislator
The Colorado Catholic Conference encourages citizens to know their representative’s voting record. Listed below is the contact information of two Catholic members of the House. Voice your opinion about their vote on Senate Bill 19.
Timothy Dore, R-Elbert
Phone: 303-866- 2398
Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver