In wake of DOMA ruling, Colorado congressional delegation split on marriage equality along party lines

By Scot Kersgaard
The Colorado IndependentJune 1, 2012
A unanimous federal appeals court ruling issued in Boston Thursday found the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional in that it discriminates against same-sex couples.

The ruling is a victory for the Obama administration and supporters of both gay rights and states' rights and a blow for the national anti-gay marriage movement and for Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who filed a controversial and critics say confused amicus brief in the case last year in support of the embattled federal law.

The three-member panel that issued the First U.S. Circuit Court ruling includes two Republican-appointed judges. The judges said the law violates the right of same-sex couples to equal protection under the law.

Brad Clark, executive director of One Colorado, hailed the ruling as being part of a "pattern of recognition by the courts" that all people have the same constitutional rights to marry regardless of sexual orientation.

Vail-area congressional Rep. Jared Polis lauded Thursday's court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act.

“Today's unanimous a powerful affirmation that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is an unconstitutional and unjust law whose days are numbered," said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry. "This ruling will return the federal government to its historic role of respecting marriages performed in the states, without carving out a ‘gay exception' that denies thousands of protections.

“As more loving same-sex couples commit their lives to one another in marriage, the harms of this unjust law become more clear – from service members, risking their lives to protect ours, being denied the ability to protect their own families through military medical insurance or survivor benefits to senior citizens having to move out of their homes after their partners of many decades pass on because they cannot access Social Security protections afforded any other legally married couple.”

In filing his brief in the case last year, Colorado's Republican attorney general said he was acting on behalf of the citizens of the state, who voted to ban same-sex marriage with Amendment 43, passed in 2006. Critics, including a former state Supreme Court justice, however, said the case in Boston had no bearing on Colorado law and that Suthers' action was a politically motivated waste of tax money. Suthers' office did not return a call seeking comment.

"All couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be able to affirm to their communities that they want to enter into a committed, married union under law," Colorado U.S. Senator Mark Udall said in a prepared statement. "This federal court decision underlines that our laws should not restrict couples' abilities to publicly declare their responsibilities to each other, their families and their communities."

Even without Thursday's ruling, the issue of marriage equality was sure to play a larger role in November's election than could have been predicted even six months ago.

Between the Colorado Legislature's civil unions theatrics and President Obama's declaration that he is in favor of marriage equality for all, the issue of gay marriage has moved out of the closet and into mainstream conversation.

The latest Washington Post/ABC poll show Americans support gay marriage by a margin of 53 percent to 39 percent.

"Poll after poll has shown that Coloradans and all Americans support full marriage rights for all people," One Colorado's Clark said.

"If politicians want to make this a wedge issue, that is really tired politics and it will fall flat with voters," Clark said.

This November could mark the first election where a candidate's position on the matter is important to voters. With that in mind, The Colorado Independent has tried to determine the positions of all the people who are running for Congress from Colorado. What TCI found will surprise no one. All of the Democrats favor same-sex marriage rights. The four incumbent Republicans oppose marriage equality, while some of the long-shot Republican candidates challenging sitting Democrats or challenging sitting Republicans in primary contests favor full marriage rights.

CD 1

Democrat Diana DeGette, whose seat is as safe as they come, has a strong pro equality record and was a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act.

The Respect for Marriage Act would have repealed the Defense of Marriage Act and require the federal government to recognize all legally performed marriages, including those of same sex couples. When she signed on as a co-sponsor, she released this statement:

“The Respect for Marriage Act will repeal a discriminatory and disrespectful measure that does not live up to ‘equality for all' that is protected under the U.S. Constitution,” said DeGette. “We must respect the rights of all Americans who seek to form loving, committed relationships regardless of their sexual orientation. I am proud to be an original sponsor of this much-needed and long-overdue legislation.”

Danny Stroud is one of two Republicans vying for the right to run against DeGette. His website is silent on the subject of marriage. His campaign phone number went unanswered and he did not return an email.

Richard Murphy, the second Republican in the race makes no mention of marriage rights on his Facebook page. Reached by email, he said, "There isn't anything in the Constitution about marriage. So the Federal Government should not be concerning itself with the family."

CD 2

Democratic incumbent Jared Polis is an advocate of marriage equality and gay rights generally.

When President Obama recently voiced support for marriage equality, Polis released this statement:

“President Obama's announcement in support of marriage equality is welcome news for American families. I thank the president for his support for equality and look forward to working with him to strengthen the institution of marriage by securing the right of all Americans to marry the person they love.”

Thursday, Polis and other sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act issued a joint statement:

“[Thursday's] decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit that DOMA is indeed unconstitutional is a major victory in the march toward justice for married gay and lesbian couples. By ruling that DOMA violates the Equal Protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause, the Court has reaffirmed that lesbians and gay men cannot legally be singled out for special discrimination. This decision underscores the reality that there is absolutely no federal interest served by denying married same-sex couples the federal responsibilities and rights that other married couples receive, and that the harm caused to these families is unjustifiable.

“It has been 16 years since Congress enacted DOMA, and the materials and arguments being made to defend the law do not withstand the test of time or scrutiny. All loving couples deserve the same opportunity to marry and to have their marriages treated with equal regard by the government. Moreover, the increasing momentum challenging DOMA – by the public, in the courts, in Congress, and in the Obama administration – demonstrates that it is simply a matter of time before this discriminatory law is thrown out, once and for all. That day cannot come soon enough for the thousands of families being harmed by this shameful law on a daily basis, and that is why we, along with many of our colleagues, will continue to fight for its end, be it through the Congress or the courts.”

Eric Weissmann is one of two Republicans aiming to unseat Polis. He told the Colorado Independent that he would have supported Colorado's civil unions bill had he been in the legislature. He describes himself as a "Liberty-oriented Republican."

A Republican legislator, Kevin Lundberg has staked his reputation on social conservatism. He was one of the strongest voices against civil unions in the Democratic State Senate, and notes on his campaign website that he has protected the values of traditional marriage.

CD 3

Scott Tipton, a first-term Republican from Cortez does not address the issue on his official congressional site, but he pulls no punches on his campaign site, where he makes it clear he does not support marriage equality.

From his campaign website:

As a father I understand the importance of strong family values. That is why I support traditional family values. I believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman and that the marriage-centered family is the foundation of our society. I believe legislation regarding the definition of marriage should be left to the people and their elected representatives in the states, not co-opted by judges and the federal government.

Tisha Casida, a conservative, is running as an independent. Her website makes no mention of marriage.

Reached by telephone, she came out strongly in favor of marriage equality. "I don't think the government should be involved in who gets married to whom. That is between two people or two people and their church. I don't think the federal government has any place in deciding who can get married."

Democrat challenger Sal Pace supported civil unions while serving in the Colorado Legislature.

CD 4

First term Republican Cory Gardner does not address the issue on either of his websites, but, which tracks the positions of all members of Congress on many issues, reports that Gardner is strongly opposed to marriage equality and civil unions.

Democratic challenger State Sen. Brandon Shaffer supports marriage equality. From his campaign website:

The Legislature had an opportunity to do something monumental this year – legalize civil unions for LGBT couples. But, partisanship in the House of Representatives reared its ugly head and derailed our efforts.

I'm very disappointed. I truly thought we were going to pass it this year. We had forged a great, bipartisan coalition inside and outside of the Capitol. The bill sponsors were spectacular in presenting and defending their bill. Between rallies on the Capitol steps and public opinion polls, it was clear the people of Colorado supported this bill.

Perhaps most disturbing, is knowing that many of my Republican friends and colleagues will privately acknowledge they think it's “the right thing to do,” but they don't dare vote in favor of it because of potential retribution from the right wing of their own party.

CD 5

Even without addressing the issue of marriage equality on his official website, Republican incumbent Doug Lamborn makes it pretty clear he is against it.

His campaign website includes a glowing endorsement from the Family Research Council, which is the political arm of Focus on the Family, and we know how fond they are of gay rights.

His official congressional site goes on at length about his commitment to "traditional values" without specifically mentioning marriage equality.

Lamborn was a cosponsor of the Protection of Marriage Act of 2007, an anti-gay-marriage measure. First elected in 2006, Lamborn holds what is probably the most conservative seat in Colorado and rarely faces a credible challenger from the Democratic Party.

Republican challenger Robert Blaha does not mention marriage on his website. He has made it clear, though, that he is running--and spending lots of his own money--not because he disagrees with Lamborn on the issues but because he thinks he could do a better job of advocating for those issues than Lamborn has done.

The Denver Post has noted that Blaha is against gay marriage. Reached by phone, a campaign aide confirmed that Blaha "is for traditional marriage between one man and one woman."

Harvard educated independent candidate Dave Anderson supports civil unions, but not same sex marriage.There is no mention of marriage on his website.

His campaign manager, Jason Christensen, said Anderson believes that civil unions are available and protected by the 14th Amendment, but that marriage is a religious matter. "Civil unions offer protections that should be available to all," Christensen said.

CD 6

Republican incumbent Mike Coffman has held a solidly Republican seat since his election to Congress in 2008. He has only sat for one reelection so far and the district was redrawn recently in a way that makes it theoretically much more competitive.

Neither Coffman's congressional website nor his campaign website make any mention of marriage equality or gay marriage, but his voting record tells the story pretty well.

He voted against repeal of DADT and was a cosponsor of a measure to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

State Rep. Joe Miklosi, the Democrat challenging Coffman in a race that seems to be getting tighter with every Coffman gaffe, supports marriage equality.

From his campaign website:

In regard to marriage equality, I co-sponsored the civil unions legislation in the Colorado legislature. Religious institutions can never be told how to implement their sacrament of marriage. However, the state's role is different. Marriage is a contract between two consenting adults and the state has no business discriminating between adults in any contract. On a personal level, I welcome all people to find the kind of loving, fulfilled life I have found with my wife Jennifer.

CD 7

Democratic incumbent Ed Perlmutter unequivocally supports marriage equality.

When Colorado Republicans killed a measure that would have allowed civil unions in Colorado, he issued this statement:

"I support same sex marriage and civil unions, that's why I'm disappointed Colorado Tea Party Republicans are following in the steps of their Washington counterparts and playing partisan political games by not even allowing a vote on the civil union bill. What played out... in the Colorado House of Representatives is the type of ideological brinkmanship that I along with most Americans and hardworking Coloradans are fed up with."

Joe Coors does not address the issue on his website. His campaign did not return a phone call. ProgressNow Colorado has called on Coors to apologize for making anti-gay comments in the past and has documented his family's financial support of organizations that have opposed marriage equality.

The Colorado Independent's John Tomasic contributed to this report.

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