Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Colorado’s Special Relationship with Gay Rights

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning gay marriage bans as unconstitutional is the capstone of an extraordinary rise in public support, including among Coloradans. Nationally, support for gay marriage moved from 27 percent in 1996, to 37 percent at the beginning of the new century, to a majority for the first time in 2011. In April 2012, a PPP poll showed 53 percent of Colorado voters supported gay marriage, up from 47 percent in late 2011. Today, Gallup reports 60 percent of the nation favors legalizing gay marriage (57% in latest Pew poll).

Colorado has had a special and controversial relationship with gay rights. A high profile battle began in 1992 when social and religious conservatives initiated and helped pass by 53 percent a prohibition on state and local government allowing protections for gays in areas such as in housing and employment. It lead to a court fight, ending four years later in the Supreme Court where it was ruled unconstitutional in Romer v. Evans in an opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy.

In spite of that legal progress, Colorado voters waited another 10 years (2006) before joining many other states to approve a statewide constitutional ban on gay marriage. That same year they also rejected a referred statute legalizing civil unions.

But by 2012, with gay marriage gaining public opinion support and President Obama announcing his own evolution, the issue gained powerful political momentum. Advocates pushed state courts and legislatures toward legalization. Colorado’s Democratic-controlled legislature passed civil unions in its 2013 session. Finally, federal courts ruled the 2006 ban unconstitutional in 2014, which was upheld in last week’s Supreme Court ruling. Twenty-three years elapsed in Colorado from a ban of legal protection to a constitutional right, and from a narrow minority position to a public opinion majority. Amazing.

Pew: Support for same-sex marriage at record high, but key segments remain opposed
Gallup: Record-high 60% of Americans support same-sex marriage

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