Marriage equality lawsuit argues that civil unions are "second-class and unequal"

Last spring, after years of hard-fought legislative battles, civil unions became legal in Colorado. But now, a complaint filed on behalf of nine gay couples describes such bonds as "second-class and unequal," and calls on a Denver District Court judge to declare that state edicts preventing same-sex marriage violate the plaintiffs' rights "under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United State Constitution."

Details, photos, video and the lawsuit itself below.

The suit's introduction to the public wasn't smooth. On Monday, publicist Bob Weiss, representing the law firm of Reilly Pozner, issued a press release noting that at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, a press conference would be held at which "nine Colorado couples, four of whom are legally married, will explain recent events that...led them to file a precedent-setting civil rights lawsuit against the State of Colorado."

Then, a few hours later, Weiss sent out a second blast noting that the press conference had been canceled. In a response to an e-mail from Westword requesting more information, Weiss wrote, "Will keep you in loop but nothing happening now."

That changed on Wednesday afternoon, when Weiss e-mailed a copy of the suit along with this message: "No public statement will be made nor interviews granted by either the lawyers handling the case or the plaintiffs."

This shift in course is especially curious given that one of the plaintiffs, University of Denver professor Kris Miccio, has been especially vocal about the marriage equality issue. Last March, before the civil unions law took effect (and a few months prior to tying the knot in New York with her beloved, Nan McDaniel), Miccio went on something of a media tour to declare that she was in the planning stages of a lawsuit.

At one stop, she told 9News, "For me, civil unions is codified second-class citizenship. When my daughter hears that this isn't a real family and her mommies aren't real mommies and that her mommies can't get married, when she was younger, she feels less than. And that's not healthy for children."

This time around, however, the Miccios and their fellow plaintiffs (Sandra Abbott and Amy Smart, Wendy and Michelle Alfredsen, Kevin and Kyle Bemis, Tommy Craig and Joshua Wells, James Davis and Christopher Massey, Sara Knickerbocker and Jessica Ryann Peyton, Jodi Lupien and Kathleen Porter, and Tracey MacDermott and Heather Shockey) are letting their lawsuit do the talking.

We've included the entire document here, but this passage from its introduction sets out the basic claims:

Colorado law creates two classes of citizens: those free to marry the person they love, and those denied that fundamental right. Same-sex couples in Colorado are relegated to a second-class level of citizenship that denies their relationships the full panoply of rights enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples. Even same-sex couples who have been validly married in other states are stripped of their marital status when they enter the state of Colorado. This denial of equal protection, due process, and basic fairness violates the Constitution of the United States of America.

Plaintiffs bring this action to challenge the constitutionality of Colorado's laws that prohibit same-sex couples from marrying and that refuse to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples lawfully entered into in other jurisdictions.... Colorado's refusal to allow same-sex couples to marry within the state, as well as its refusal to recognize the validity of out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples violates multiple guarantees of the United States Constitution. Colorado's recognition instead of second-class and unequal relationship recognition through civil unions does not cure these violations. Plaintiffs respectfully request that this Court declare Colorado's prohibition of same-sex marriage and refusal to recognize valid out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples unconstitutional and issue an injunction requiring defendants (a) to issue marriage licenses to the unmarried plaintiffs, and (b) to recognize the existing marriages of the plaintiffs lawfully married in other states.

Continue for more about the marriage equality lawsuit, including the document and a video.  

A couple getting a civil union last spring.
A couple getting a civil union last spring.
Photo by Kyle Huninghake

The section above is followed by biographical sketches of the plaintiffs. Here's the one pertaining to the Miccios:

Plaintiffs Kris and Nan McDaniel-Miccio were married in New York on November 30, 2013 and reside in Denver, Colorado where they own a home together. Kris is a professor of law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law where she has taught for over 12 years. Nan works part time for a county elections department and for an accounting firm during tax season, as well as volunteering with a local county mediation service. Their legal, New York state marriage would be recognized in the state of Colorado except for the fact that they are both women. Instead, Colorado degrades their relationship by deeming them to be in a second-class civil union whenever they are in Colorado. They wish to have their marriage recognized in the state of Colorado, and they have been harmed by Colorado's refusal to recognize their lawful marriage, instead reducing the legal status of their relationship to a civil union.

The complaint goes on to site the "long history of discrimination against homosexuals" on a national level ("In the 1930s and 1940s, many states prohibited gay people from being served in bars and restaurants") and in Colorado, via legislation such as 1992's Amendment II, whose provisions to outlaw so-called "special rights" for gays was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court a few years later.

The complaint concludes with five claims for relief and demands that the defendants -- Governor John Hickenlooper and Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson -- take seven separate steps to repair the situation. Included among them is a requirement that Hickenlooper and Johnson "permit issuance of marriage licenses to the Unmarried Plaintiffs, pursuant to the same restrictions and limitations applicable to opposite-sex couples, and to recognize the out-of-state marriages validly entered into by the Married Plaintiffs."

Here's Kris Miccio's 9News interview from March 2013, followed by the complete lawsuit.

Marriage Equality Civil Rights Complaint

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Things to Do archive circa May 2013: "Civil unions photos: Meet four couples who made it legal last night."

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