Colorado gay rights campaign tapping into fast-growing support

Efforts to expand gay rights in Colorado continue to gain momentum — at the legislature, in the courts and at the ballot box.

Last year, a bill granting civil unions for same-sex couples became law. Governor John Hickenlooper this year already has signed a bill that allows same-sex couples married in the eyes of the federal government to file joint state tax returns in Colorado. There are two lawsuits currently wending their way through the courts challenging the state’s 2006 ban on gay marriage. And poll numbers show steady, fast-growing support among voters for full equality for gay residents of the state.

Why Marriage Matters, a grassroots effort launched at the beginning of March, hopes to tap into and boost that momentum. The campaign is spearheaded by gay-rights groups One Colorado and Freedom to Marry and by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. It’s organizing gay couples and their supporters around the state to explain how marriage would make a difference in their everyday family life — on matters such as taxes, hospital visits and child care.

On Friday, OneColorado announced some of the community leaders lining up behind the campaign, including relatively high-profile figures such as Denver state Rep. Rhonda Fields and former Democratic Denver Rep. Terrance Carroll.

Carroll, the state’s first black Speaker of the House, said legalizing gay marriage is about expanding equal rights.

“Here in Colorado, we continue to fight for full equality for all people,” he said in a One Colorado release. “Gay and lesbian Coloradans are part of our families and our community – they are our sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles… Marriage gives committed couples the tools and security to build a life together and protect their families, and no one should be denied that fundamental freedom.”

Other leaders on the campaign’s list of supporters include Amanda Gonzalez, director of the Colorado Latino Forum; Denver City Councilman Paul López; local Anti-Defamation League director Scott Levin, state Senator Joyce Foster and her husband, Rabbi Steven Foster.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Lawsuits have been filed challenging bans in states around the country. California gay couples last year won a legal battle to lift 2008’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage there and was backed with enormous sums by national religious organizations. In Colorado, lawmakers passed a same-sex civil unions bill after similar attempts failed in previous sessions.

Public Policy Polling this week shows record-high support among Colorado voters for gay marriage. Pollsters found a clear majority, 56 percent, favors marriage equality and 36 percent oppose it — a 20-point swing since 2011. What’s more, PPP found that 71 percent of voters in Colorado under the age of 45 now support gay marriage.