What Should I Know About the Colorado Civil Unions Act?

Tina Harkness, Membership Developmento-CIVIL-UNIONS-COLORADO-570.jpg

The Colorado Civil Unions Act took effect May 1. The law gives parties to civil unions the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities afforded to spouses under Colorado law, including protection from discrimination and equal protection in the court system. The law also gives full faith and credit to civil unions formed in other jurisdictions under requirements similar to Colorado’s.

Who can form a civil union? Two adults who are at least 18 years of age and not already parties to another civil union or married and not closely related by blood can form a civil union.

What is the process for forming a civil union? Parties wishing to form a civil union will complete an application and pay a fee to the county clerk. The clerk determines if the requirements are met and issues a civil union license. This license is valid in Colorado for 35 days from date of issue. In that time, the parties must have their civil union certified by a judge, district or county court magistrate, retired judge, or according to a mode recognized by a religious denomination or Indian nation or tribe. Within 63 days of certification, a party to a civil union must complete the civil union certificate and return it to the county court that issued the license. The clerk then registers the civil union.

How can a civil union end? Parties to civil unions must go through the same dissolution of marriage or legal separation processes required of married individuals.

How will this new law affect employers? Changes effective May 1 give parties to civil unions:

protection from discrimination under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act based on spousal status;

• workers’ compensation benefits;

• the right to be treated as a family member or spouse for purposes of unemployment benefits;

• eligibility for group benefit plans for state employees under the State Employees Group Benefits Act;

• the right to designation as a beneficiary under the state public employees’ retirement system;

• survivor benefits under local government firefighter and police pensions; and

• family leave benefits (however, see below regarding the federal Family and Medical Leave Act).

The requirements to offer parties to civil unions participation in life insurance plans and fully insured “health coverage plans,” if spouses are offered coverage, are effective for plans issued, delivered, or renewed on or after January 1, 2014What constitutes a “health coverage plan” is not defined, and we are awaiting guidance from the Colorado Division of Insurance.

Can employers require employees to provide a copy of their civil union certificates? Where spouses are required to provide marriage certificates, so must parties to civil unions provide civil union certificates.

Does the new law give parties to civil unions rights to leave under federal laws like the Family and Medical Leave Act? Federal law must be examined separately to determine its effect on parties to civil unions. For example, the Act acknowledges that until the current definition of marriage changes under federal law, federal law prohibits the filing of joint tax returns by unmarried individuals, and because Colorado income tax is tied to federal income tax, parties to civil unions will not be able to file joint federal or Colorado tax returns. As another example, the federal FMLA defines spouse as “husband or wife as defined or recognized under State law for purposes of marriage in the State where the employee resides, including common law marriage in States where it is recognized.” Amendment 43 to Colorado’s Constitution defines marriage as between one man and one woman. As a result, parties to civil unions are not currently eligible for federal FMLA leave. However, if Colorado HB 13-1222 passes, a new state law would be enacted granting leave to parties to civil unions and domestic partners.

Does the new law have effects beyond employment? Yes. The new law gives parties to civil union rights concerning property and inheritance; adoption; domestic abuse assistance; hospitalization and medical decision making; and other matters.