The Path to Marriage Equality in Colorado: Having a Responsible Statewide Conversation

Six months ago, when I left my job as a speechwriter in D.C. and headed west to join the staff of One Colorado – the state’s largest advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Coloradans – I had the feeling I was about to become part of something big.

In the weeks that would follow, suffice it to say that I wasn’t let down.

From passing civil unions to our work to end discrimination in health care against transgender Coloradans through a groundbreaking statewide insurance bulletin, LGBT Coloradans have made more progress than ever before.

And now, with momentum on our side, our community and its many allies face our toughest fight yet: securing the freedom to marry once and for all.

At the national level, we’ve seen incredible gains in a relatively short period of time – many of which have flowed from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this summer on the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. One example came just a few weeks ago when the Obama Administration announced that all legally married gay and lesbian couples will be recognized for federal tax purposes, regardless of the state they call home.

 We know that some of these changes will directly improve the lives of many couples here in Colorado – at least those who have the economic privilege and physical ability to obtain a marriage license in another state.

But one critical and non-negotiable reality remains: Here in Colorado, thousands of loving, committed couples are still denied the dignity and many key protections that only marriage can provide. Marriage matters to all of our families, and it’s wrong to treat people differently simply because of who they are and who they love.

There is only one way to move beyond the unreliable, unjust legal patchwork that our families face when they are denied full equality – and that is to win the freedom to marry here in Colorado.

So, how do we go about it?

The answer won’t come from any one person or group. It’s a path that LGBT Coloradans and their allies must come together to forge. With same-sex couples across the state trying to take care of each other and their families, we need to figure out how to secure marriage equality in the swiftest possible manner – but in a way that also ensures a reasonable expectation of success.

It’s not going to be a cakewalk.

For starters, in every state campaign that has secured marriage for same-sex couples, the cost of victory has been tremendous: millions of dollars to build a statewide infrastructure, and thousands of volunteers having hundreds of thousands of conversations with voters about why marriage matters to our families.

Then there’s the question of litigation. We’ve seen time and again that fighting for marriage equality in the courts can be a lengthy, expensive and unpredictable process. Look no further than California’s Proposition 8 for confirmation of that fact.

But the biggest challenge of all is reminding ourselves that LGBT Coloradans and their allies cannot carry marriage across the finish line by themselves. If we’re going to take this to the ballot and do away with Colorado’s existing ban on same-sex marriage, we’ll have to win the support of voters who remain conflicted on this issue – decent, reasonable folks who are still on their journey and can be moved by a message that appeals to their values. Values like love and commitment, freedom for all and the Golden Rule.

In other words, we’ve got some work to do. At the top of our to-do list is laying the groundwork for an aggressive public education campaign aimed at showing voters why marriage matters to all families. It’s going to take considerable time, energy and resources. But together, that’s how we’ll blaze a trail to victory.

In the meantime, we need to engage our own community in a frank conversation about exactly what it’s going to take to win the freedom to marry. What assets do we have at our disposal, and how can we translate those assets into a winning statewide campaign?

One Colorado is determined to help carry out that conversation. We kicked it off on September 19th  with the launch of our Pathway to Marriage Roadshow. It’s a nine-week, multi-city series of town hall meetings to engage LGBT Coloradans and our allies, and begin building the foundation for the fight ahead.

Simply put, our work begins now. It’s time to hit the road – and we hope you’ll join us on the ride.

Jon Monteith serves as Communications Director for One Colorado, a statewide organization fighting to secure equality for Colorado’s LGBT community. His early 2013 sprint for the Mountain West – and quest for marginal political detox – came after a five-year stint in Washington, DC, most recently as a speechwriter for the Democratic National Committee. Jon has also worked for the Human Rights Campaign and as a congressional press aide. A proud graduate of the University of Illinois, Jon was once described as a “militant homosexual” by the official right-wing publication on campus; he considers it a badge of honor to this day.