Colorado lawmakers, LGBTQ+ community members kick off ballot initiative to protect same-sex marriages

Andrew Kenney/CPR News
A pride flag flies ahead of a press conference on the marriage equality amendment on May 8, 2024

As the 2024 legislative session entered its final hours Wednesday, Governor Jared Polis and state politicians gathered with members of the LGBTQ+ community on the west steps of the Capitol to officially launch an effort to remove language banning same-sex marriages in the state constitution.

Colorado’s constitution still contains obsolete language that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. The U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the United States nine years ago. But with the court’s relatively recent decision to strike down its longstanding abortion protections, some advocates worry that precedent too could be reconsidered.

That led state lawmakers to pass a bill this session giving voters the option to protect those rights should the Supreme Court opt to reverse itself.

It would strike a portion of the state constitution that reads: “Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state.” That language was approved by voters in 2006, the same year they rejected a measure to create domestic partnerships.

Nadine Bridges, Executive Director of the LGBTQ+ advocacy organization One Colorado, channeled the anxiety around a potential reversal from the Supreme Court Wednesday. 

More than one Justice has said that same-sex marriage should be revisited,” Bridges said. “If the Obergefell decision is overturned, same-sex couples cannot be married in the future here in Colorado if this amendment remains in our state constitution. That's why we're giving you all the chance to fix this wrong.” 

Several lawmakers spoke in personal terms about their own same-sex marriages at the ballot initiative launch, including Polis — who married his husband, Marlon Reis, three years ago — Sen. Joann Ginal, and Rep. Brianna Titone. Also in attendance were Anna and Fran Simon, the first same-sex couple to be married in Colorado. Anna Simon spoke about the legal hurdles they had to jump through before same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide.

Paolo Zialcita/CPR News
Gov. Polis and other lawmakers stood with members of the LGBTQ+ community at the Capitol in Denver to launch a ballot initiative to protect same-sex marriages, on May 8, 2024.

“I had to be fingerprinted, get an FBI background check, and paid to have it announced in a newspaper just to get my wife's last name. We had to hire a lawyer and petition a judge and pay for special processing fees just to have both of our names on our son Jeremy's birth certificate,” she said. “Is that what we want for committed couples in Colorado? No.”

To get on the ballot, the proposed amendment had to gain supermajority support in the legislature. Democrats hold that margin on their own in the House but are one vote short in the Senate. In the end, though, it was a bipartisan effort, with six Republicans in the Senate and two in the House joining Democrats to pass the bill.

Joining same-sex marriage on the ballot will be an initiative to put the right to an abortion into the Colorado constitution — another effort spurred on by anxiety surrounding the U.S. Supreme Court.