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Hope for civil unions in Colorado, Oregon ends trans healthcare discrimination

Civil Unions Community/Meta Transgender Rights

By Jacob Combs

Civil unions legislation looks likely to have more success in Colorado this year than last, the Durango Herald reported last week, with supporters planning to introduce a bill in the legislature this Wednesday.  We followed the torturous path the civil unions bill took through the Colorado General Assembly last May, when Republicans in the state House of Representatives did everything in their power to prevent the bill from coming up for a vote (which it likely would have passed), eventually killing it–and over 20 other bills–in a special legislative session.

Last year’s civil unions bill passed the Colorado Senate with support from all 20 of the chambers Democrats and three of its Republicans.  Of those three, only Republican Ellen Roberts remains in the newly elected legislature, but Democrats still hold a 20-15 majority, meaning the bill is almost certain to pass again.

More importantly, the Colorado House flipped from Republican control to Democratic control in the 2012 election.  In the legislative session from 2010-2012, Republicans held a razor thin 33-32 advantage; in the new legislature, Democrats have a much clearer 37-28 majority.  Thirty-three representatives will need to vote for the measure to pass, and at least two House Republicans have expressed support for civil unions.

Democrat Mark Ferrandino, the incoming Speaker of the House and the civil unions bill’s chief sponsor last year, told the Herald that he was inundated with requests after the November election asking him to repeal Colorado’s marriage equality ban.  But he remains focused on civil unions, telling the Herald he “[doesn’t] think we’re there yet as a state” when it comes to fully equal marriage rights.

In other news, the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Service’s insurance division last month released an under-the-radar directive holding that a 2007 law prohibiting discrimination against LGBT individuals should be interpreted to mean that insurance companies may not deny coverage to transgender people or refuse coverage for medically necessary health care.  Via the Portland-based website PQ Monthly, here is a list of unacceptable actions that would constitute gender identity discrimination under the new directive:

  • Denying, cancelling, limiting, or refusing to renew an insurance policy.
  • Requiring different rates or premiums.
  • Classifying “gender identity disorder” or “gender dysphoria” (GI/GD) as a disqualifying pre-existing condition.
  • Denying coverage for a procedure that is provided for the treatment of other conditions of illness (such as hormone therapy, mastectomy, or vocal training).
  • Categorically denying coverage of GI/GD.
  • Denying mental health coverage for GI/GD-related issue in adults.
  • Denying sex-specific care (such as pap smears and prostate exams).


  • 1. Anthony from SoCal  |  January 7, 2013 at 9:39 am

    Somewhat off topic but….

    Marriage arguments at SCOTUS have been scheduled:

    Prop 8 (Perry) will be heard on March 26, 2013

    DOMA (Windsor) will be heard on March 27, 2013

  • 2. Sean  |  January 7, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    I'm from NJ and I agree that CO should focus on marriage not CUs. We've had them for 5 years now and still 8 out of 10 New Jerseyans couldn't tell you what is a civil union. What a joke. After CO passes a CU law the next day will be the same as before. CO's LGBT will still be second class citizens. The CO legislators need to grow a pair and do what's right now. They have enough democrats in office now to overturn the ban after all.

  • 3. Straight Dave  |  January 7, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    (part 1)
    I'm generally not a fan of CU's at all, and think RI in particular wasted their time. But in CO, I'm not sure it's such a worthless step at this point in time. My understanding is that CO has a constitutional amendment in place that prevents the legislature approving marriage all on their own. If they can get CUs in place before DOMA goes down in June, then that creates a great argument for taking the next step. The CUs would suddenly look blatantly unequal, and it would be hard to argue otherwise. But that requires having CUs as the starting point for reference. It shifts the whole marriage argument from religion, tradition, yada yada to OMG CUs are so unequal. Once the people have more or less come to accept that LGBT are deserving of something approaching fair and equal treatment, and DOMA falls, then the whole "CUs are close enough" argument blows up in their face.

  • 4. Straight Dave  |  January 7, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    (part 2)
    It will either lay the groundwork for a good amendment repeal effort or bring the courts into play. If Prop8 falls for the narrowest of reasons, the next baby step would be challenging the distinction between CU and marriage. If SCOTUS doesn't do that now, it can't be far away.

    In short, CU is an easy legislative step, while marriage is not. So take it as a very useful stepping stone. CO may be a special case. How many other states have constitutional marriage amendments that are on the verge of CU approval?

  • 5. Sean  |  January 8, 2013 at 1:08 am

    The article implies that the marriage ban was put in place just by a previous legislature. A quick search tells me that it was a voter-approved ban which clarifies Speaker Ferrandino's comments on whether CO should place marriage back on the ballot. In this case, CUs as the next step makes good sense.

    What RI did was foolish. They wrote more discrimination into an already discriminatory and unnecessary law.

  • 6. Larry  |  January 8, 2013 at 8:41 am

    My opinion is that when considering between civil unions and marriage equality, 2 main things should be considered. How easy would it be to achieve each option, and how would each compare to the status quo. Colorado currently has domestic partnerships that grant limited benefits, and no recognition of out of state relationships. Upgrading to either civil unions or full marriage would be a big change. Colorado also has a constitutional amendment against same sex marriage, which could only be amended with a 2/3 vote in each house of the Colorado legislature AND a majority vote by the public. That's a very big hurdle to climb, while civil unions would only need a majority in the legislature. So I think Colorado should for now just take the low-hanging fruit of civil unions. If civil unions get less than 2/3 vote in either house, then a marriage amendment would be all but impossible. Not to mention the ethical question of voluntarily putting marriage up to a vote. In the meantime, there's the possibility of a lawsuit, right?

  • 7. Magi More  |  January 7, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    <img src=""/&gt; Denying sex-specific care, regarding this, can anyone here elaborate what this means?<img src=""/&gt;

  • 8. Deeelaaach  |  January 8, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    I'm not sure exactly what your question is, and I can't be specific as I don't know OR law. In general your sex is your physical anatomy and your gender is how you identify, male/female etc, in your head. Trans folk have died because such care was denied to them. Currently in many jurisdictions if you're legally female (gender) but physically male (sex), you can be denied treatment for prostate cancer. If male (gender) but physically female (sex), you can be denied coverage for ovarian/uterine cancer etc. This actually happened to Robert Eads (covered in the 2001 film, Southern Comfort) and he died from it. Today, insurance companies will often not provide coverage, and often medical professionals will not help either. Apparently the Hippocratic Oath need not always apply to trans folk. This does seem to be changing for the better vis a vis the OR law etc. And I do try to follow developments in this field, because, well, I'm trans.

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