Durango couple eyes Denver as lawmakers open debate on civil unions

Laura Latimer and Professor Ellen Paul attend college events in Durango with their 8-month-old son Alexander strapped to one of their chests. They wear Ernie and Burt hats around the house for comic relief. They own four dogs. They plan their days around their son’s nap time, just like all new parents do, and they want to be there for each other for the long haul, come what may. They work. They vote. They pay their taxes. Whether they realize it or not or even care, Laura and Ellen and Alexander are an apple pie American family. Because Laura and Ellen are lesbians, however, they pay more money for less civil rights than straight couples do, a fact that could change this year in Colorado as Senate Bill 172 makes its way though the legislature in Denver. The bill, sponsored by Senator Pat Steadman, would create legal domestic-partner civil unions in the state, and it meets its first test at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in the Old Supreme Court Chambers under the dome this afternoon.

“We want to be able to take care of one another, like everyone else. There’s a responsibility in that,” Latimer told the Colorado Independent. She said being able to enter into a civil union would have immediate practical and psychological effect. “We want to be able to be there for one another in an emergency, to take care of each others’ medical needs.”

Steadman’s bill would grant straight and gay couples entering into a civil union the right to make medical and end-of-life decisions for one another. It would also grant or streamline the right for couples like Latimer and Paul to do estate planning, share insurance policies, visit one another in hospitals or prisons, shield them from having to testify against one another in court, for example– that is, to enjoy all of the many legal rights married couples take for granted.

Latimer works as the assistant director for residence life at Fort Lewis College. Paul teaches modern European history there. They have been together for years and recently tapped a male friend to help them have a child. Alexander is Latimer’s biological child and Paul recently adopted him through the state’s second-parent-adoption process.

That process cost the couple thousands of dollars that married couples don’t have to pay. They paid attorney and court costs and filed a slew of documents with the state. As part of the process, government officials visited their house to conduct a “home study,” where Paul said they checked to make sure the house was generally safe for an infant– that the toilets flushed and that electrical outlets were covered. There are no home studies for married couples.

“It adds up,” Paul said. “That’s in addition to all the other costs that come when you have a newborn.”

Latimer and Paul see the benefits that would come of civil unions all around in their everyday life. They said their friends, another committed gay couple, recently remodeled a house together.

“It’s a beautiful place and it sure would be comforting for them to know that it would pass to each other if something were to happen,” Latimer said.

Durango Republican Senator Ellen Roberts sits on the Judiciary Committee that is weighing the civil unions legislation today. Latimer and Paul said they believe Roberts is sympathetic and will vote to forward the bill to the senate to be debated.

In fact, the Senate Judiciary Committee presents an important early but low hurdle for this bill. The committee is composed of five Democrats and four Republicans. Six women sit on the committee, including Committee Chair Denver Democrat Morgan Carroll. Any opposition is likely to come from Republicans Steve King and Kevin Lundberg. That opposition won’t be enough to derail the bill but it may signal the kinds of arguments that will be made against it as it moves out of the Senate and into a less-friendly Republican-controlled House committee in the coming weeks.

“It’s scary that I could be in a hospital not knowing for certain that Ellen could make decisions for me, especially now [that we have] the little one,” Latimer said.

Edit note: Laura Latimer doesn’t go by “Latty” as I originally reported. That’s just an email moniker. The event they attended in one of the photos above was not “sporting” event, as I wrote, it was a peace rally.

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