Supporters of Colorado's new civil unions law say a court ruling declaring a same-sex divorce final means gay couples married in other states can legally terminate their relationships in Colorado without uprooting their lives.
Juli Yim and Lorelei Jones wed in Massachusetts in 2009, where same-sex marriage is legal. Yim said that relationship went sour and she found a new partner in Colorado.
Colorado is one of several states that treat gay and straight couples the same in almost every respect through civil unions or domestic partnerships. Gay couples are not allowed to marry in Colorado, but can get divorced there under state statute.
Gay rights advocates said other states also grant divorces to gay couples who were married elsewhere, but some require in-state residency to dissolve the relationship. Gay-rights advocates contend the requirement is more than an inconvenience because it can put lives on hold for those who have moved to different states.
Denver lawyer Kyle Martelon said there is some confusion on how gay couples can get divorced, and the issues are different in other states.
"A lot of people kind of think if they went on vacation to Iowa or Massachusetts or New York and got married and came back to their state, that when they break up they can just go their separate ways," Martelon said. "It's not like that."
Colorado's civil union law, which took effect May 1, provides legal protections including division of property, financial responsibility between former spouses, parental visitation and child support to splitting couples, provided one involved individual has lived in Colorado for more than 90 days.
The new law prohibits anyone who is married or in a civil union in another state from entering a civil union in Colorado with someone other than their legally recognized spouse.
Yim and Suzie Calvin have been friends since high school and plan to marry next May 1, most likely in another state unless Colorado's ban on same-sex marriage is overturned, which is unlikely to happen soon. Yim's divorce became final Monday in El Paso County, the Fort Collins Coloradoan reported Tuesday.
Yim's was among seven dissolution cases filed during the first two months the new law was in effect. The other six are pending.
While in some cases, like Yim's, relationships fell apart soon after the new law went into effect. In other cases, Colorado provided an opportunity closer to home for gay couples looking to end relationships legally recognized in other states.
Denver lawyer Tawni Cummings, who represents the petitioner in one of the state's pending dissolution cases, said her client and partner have been in a 32-year lesbian relationship and established a domestic partnership in 2008 in California. They moved to Colorado in 2011 before their relationship came to an end.
"I think (Colorado's civil union law) is really going to provide a lot of protection to people in relationships of this length," Cummings said. "You hear horror stories about people losing a lot of what they've spent a life together building."
Colorado law now recognizes similar legal affirmations from other states, including same-sex marriage, as civil unions. Under that provision, Cummings' client is seeking to dissolve her California domestic partnership in a Colorado court.
Same-sex marriage is legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia, and six more states recognize some form of civil unions between same-sex couples.