The flip side of Colorado’s new civil union law: same-sex divorce

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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Some same-sex couples in Colorado are learning that with legally-recognized civil unions comes the flip side of that coin — gay divorce.

At least seven couples in Colorado have filed for dissolution of their civil unions, which were only legalized on May 1, according to the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Colorado does not recognize same-sex “marriage,” but civil unions are largely the same from a legal standpoint. And that means breaking up has legal consequences as well, especially if there are children involved.

“You can’t have one without the other,” Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino told the newspaper. Ferrandino is Colorado’s first openly gay speaker and he was one of the main proponents of the bill.

“With the recognition of civil unions come the rights and responsibilities to the family, regardless of what happens to the relationship,” he said. “It’s important to have a process to resolve ending of a relationship, especially when kids are involved. Prior to civil unions, depending on the judge and the documents you had, there really wasn’t a very orderly process. This provides for a very orderly separation with more legal certainties.”

The Coloradoan reports that the dissolution cases that are pending fall into two categories — relationships that quickly lost their luster, and others in which couples whose unions were recognized in other states are calling it splits in Colorado.

Even though there have been an estimated 1,000 civil unions since May 1, the seven dissolutions are “kind of a big number in my mind,” Republican state Rep. Kevin Lundberg, who opposes same-sex unions, told the paper.

“I can’t even imagine someone taking such a significant step in their life and then immediately reversing course,” he said. “It’s apparent that this will be a big industry. [Supporters] talked about how civil unions will be an economic boon for the state, and it will be — for divorce lawyers.”

But whether the number is big or not is almost impossible to say. According to a recent Wall Street Journal survey of states that allow gay marriage or legally binding partnerships, almost none gathered data on dissolutions of same-sex unions. That’s because in the past, divorces and dissolutions only meant one thing — that a man and a woman were splitting up. Therefore, the forms used for divorces didn’t bother to collect gender data.

“Because same-sex marriage is so new in the U.S.,” Jennifer Glass, a sociologist at the University of Texas, Austin, is quoted as saying, “we really do not have a long enough track record to give accurate divorce statistics.”

According to the National Center for Health Statistics — part of the Centers for Disease Control — the heterosexual divorce rate in Colorado was 4.4 per 1,000 people in 2011, the most recent statistics available.

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Greg Campbell