History isn’t always made during epic events.
Sometimes it takes only a $30 check and two signatures.
When Jennifer Whitton and Tana Trejillo signed their civil union certificate last Wednesday morning at the Jeffco clerk and recorder’s office, staff members interrupted what they were doing to applaud.
It was the first same-sex civil union in Jefferson County.
Whitton and Trejillo, together five and a half years, were all smiles as they handed over the $30 check to the county.
“Never in a million years did I think it would happen,” Trejillo said. “It gives me a lot of hope.”
The couple, expecting their first child in October, had already been married in Vermont. But they wanted the state where they live to recognize their union, and to ensure Trejillo’s rights as a parent to their child won’t be questioned.
“It’s kind of exciting. I feel like I was in an important part of history,” Said Kathy Lenger, a land records specialist who helped fill out the paperwork for Whitton and Trejillo. “It’s also nice to see how happy the couples are doing this.”
Jeffco Clerk and Recorder Pam Anderson shook the couple’s hands and said that, while her printed signature already appeared on their certificate, she’d be honored to autograph it personally. County Commissioner Casey Tighe stopped in to shake hands with the happy couple.
“I just think it’s a historical day,” Anderson said.
“I just wanted to be here for this historic event and say congratulations and good luck,” Tighe said.
The civil union law approved during the 2013 session of the Colorado General Assembly provides the legal framework to grant unmarried couples, both gay and heterosexual, rights similar to those of married couples. Those rights include transferring property, making medical decisions, adopting children and qualifying for health insurance and survivor benefits.
After failed attempts in 2011 and 2012, the law was passed this year and signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper on March 21.
“It was really exciting to see the bill pass this year,” said Kevin Sylves. “I was very disappointed to see it fail last year.”
Sylves and his partner of six years, Jeff Wong, were married in an unofficial ceremony in Littleton last year.
“We’ve been waiting for so long. We got married in October, but it was unofficial in the state’s eyes,” Wong said.
“I’m … I’m very … I’m very happy,” said Barbara Adams, struggling for words as she described her feelings after she and her partner, Jennifer Foster, had signed their civil union certificate.
“She’s a little flabbergasted,” Foster said. “I’m excited. It’s still not federal rights, which doesn’t help me since I’m a federal employee, but it’s a start.”
The federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages and civil unions as a result of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule on the constitutionality of DOMA later this year.
But despite the lack of federal recognition, the couples getting their civil union certificates at the Taj Mahal face a much simpler path when seeking legal recognition.
Patti Meeks, who was joined in a union to her partner of 15 years, Louise Wise, said same-sex couples now won’t have to hire a lawyer and fill out numerous documents just to ensure they have the rights granted to heterosexual couples.
“It’s simple — really simple. Thirty dollars for the license is a whole lot simpler than all the legal documents,” Meeks said.
DeGette helps kick off
civil unions in Denver
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, the Democrat who represents South Jeffco in Congress, joined Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, judges and clergy to help preside over the more than 100 civil unions performed during Denver’s midnight ceremony.
“For me, it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said Aron Marks, who showed up at midnight just so DeGette could perform a civil-union ceremony for him and his partner, Kurt Anderson. “I’ve been her constituent my entire adult life.”
DeGette, vice chair of the House’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality Caucus, hailed the day as historic and as a step toward full recognition for LGBT couples.
“Wednesday was a great day for Colorado as we took a substantial, and long overdue, step toward equality and acceptance for all our families with the legalization of civil unions,” DeGette said.
“While this represents a significant achievement in the pursuit of full equality for LGBT Coloradans, we cannot forget that there is still work left to be done.”
Contact Ramsey Scott at email@example.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.