Updated: The “180” Endorsement

UPDATED: Candidates and issue committees beware. The media endorsement that is bestowed can be taken away. In an October 15th editorial, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel had decided to support a “no” vote on Amendment 43, which is a proposed constitutional amendment that defines marriage in Colorado as a union of one man and woman.

The Daily Sentinel editorial board wrote:

If the state did not already have a law on its books which bans any marriage that is not between one man and one woman, a better argument could be made for supporting a constitutional amendment which does the same thing. But that state law does exist and it has faced no serious legal challenge. The traditional concept of marriage is not endangered in this state.

Luckily for the groups supporting No On 43 and Referendum I, it wasn’t a resounding endorsement that was going to be useful in their advertisements or brochures because two weeks later, the Daily Sentinel reversed itself:

A few weeks ago, this corner reasoned that because state law already clearly defines marriage as a union only between one man and one woman, there was no need to formalize such language in the state Constitution. The decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court  this week has changed our view?.

In light of the New Jersey ruling, clear language in the Colorado Constitution that cannot be so easily overturned by judicial fiat as state law is a virtual necessity to ensure that marriage in Colorado remains a union between one man and one woman.

Vote “Yes” on Amendment 43.

Had the Daily Sentinel ever changed an election endorsement before? “I don’t recall ever reversing a position in the middle of an election before. I’ve been the editorial page editor here for 11 years,” commented Bob Silbernagel, the Daily Sentinel editorial page editor.

“The reasons for the change were as straightforward as those stated in the editorial. We had thought the language in state law was sufficient, but the New Jersey decision made it evident that our state courts could easily change that law. They cannot so easily overturn a constitutional amendment,” Silbernagel said.

Sean Duffy, who heads up the Coloradans For Fairness group promoting Referendum I, insisted the passage of Referendum I would help prevent a New Jersey type ruling. Attorney Pat Steadman, a gay-rights advocate who helped craft Referendum I, made these comments:

What really disappoints me is that they should have revised their stance on Referendum I.  They have editorialized against it.  If they were really paying attention to the lesson to be learned from New Jersey they would support Ref. I.  Had it been the law in NJ the outcome of that case likely would have been different.  In fact, the California Court of Appeals recently threw out a lawsuit challenging that state?s marriage restrictions because California has a domestic partnership law very comparable to Ref. I.  By providing basic legal rights the opportunity for discrimination complaints is eliminated.

In contrast to California, NJ has a domestic partnership law that is very narrow in scope.  All of the things it fails to provide were highlighted in the NJ Supreme Court ruling, and they are all things that Ref I does indeed cover. 

One of the major distortions about the NJ ruling is that it requires ?gay marriage.?  That is not accurate.  All the court is demanding from their state legislature is equality ? laws that apply equally to protect all committed couples.  In all likelihood the NJ legislature will pass a law like Ref I.  This is the same situation that occurred in Vermont, leading that state in 2000 to become the first in the nation to offer civil unions to same-sex couples. 

Had the editors of the Grand Junction Sentinel studied the situation with an open mind they would have seen that their position on Referendum I is what should be revisited.  Addressing the unfair gaps in current Colorado law will more to prevent such lawsuits than Amendment 43 ever will.  Amendment 43 does nothing to address real problems faced by real families.  It is a distraction, just like the Sentinel?s flip-flop.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if the Daily Sentinel’s rationale to reverse their support on Amendment 43 and who also declined to support Referendum I, could help set up the gay marriage/equal rights debate in a situation they were hoping to avoid: in the courts.