DENVER

Civil Unions Midnight Celebration: Boulder County Issues 48 Licenses

May 01, 2013 | Updated Jul 01, 2013

History and romance were wedded early this morning as 48 couples streamed into Boulder County offices to seal their commitments under Colorado's new civil unions law.

The Boulder County Clerk and Recorder's Office opened the second that Tuesday ticked over to Wednesday, the moment that Colorado's civil union law went into effect. Nothing under the statute precludes people of opposite gender from also establishing such a partnership in the eyes of the state -- but this was clearly a moment of huge significance for same-sex couples.

"We have never waited for society to tell us what is right," said Amy Zuckerman, as she and her partner, Ronica Roth, waited, eighth in line, to obtain their license. "We have always made the

decisions that we felt confident were in the right direction for humanity.

"We're happy that the state has granted us this opportunity, we're thankful and grateful for all those who made this happen, and yet we are tonight acknowledging the work that is left undone."

There was cake, non-alcoholic cider, a disc jockey and adults dancing with abandon in their fuzzy pajamas in the Houston room of the county office complex, just downstairs from the clerk's office, all organized through the LGBT advocacy group Out Boulder. There was a photographer snapping free memorial photographs for anyone who desired one, and silk roses presented to every couple.

And there was history layered on history.

As expected, former Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Clela Rorex, the subject of national attention 38 years ago when she briefly issued same-sex marriage licenses before the state attorney general advised her to stop, was there. She officiated over some couple's union ceremonies, and savored the sight of society taking another step on a trail she helped blaze.

"It brings a lot of years kind of full circle finally, for me, and the decision I made years ago," said Rorex, who has just moved back to Boulder County after living for a short time in Kansas.

"I have always felt I made the right decision then. It's the right decision now. I wish it were marriage, rather than civil unions, but this is a big step, and the day will come soon when we could see DOMA (the federal Defense of Marriage Act) repealed, I'm just sure of it. So, this is just wonderful to be here, and be invited, to see the first license written out."

Being first, for a second time

History will reflect that the first Boulder County license went to Bonnie Lloyd and Pattea Carpenter, a Louisville couple who have been pioneers before. They are the first lesbian couple in the United States to have both mothers' names placed on their child's birth certificate through use of the Uniform Parentage Act.

Although the clerk's office staffed seven stations, allowing the initial seven couples in line to be seated at once just after midnight, it was Lloyd and Carpenter who completed the process first. After 10 minutes of answering a clerk's routine procedural questions, they beamed as they came back downstairs to cheers and whistles from supporters and other couples waiting their turn.

"It's the beginning of something, a wave, that is going to start," said Carpenter. "I think full marriage privileges are possible in my lifetime. I feel hopeful, tonight."

Marriage was a word on the lips of many. Only nine states in the country allow same-sex couples to marry -- Rhode Island is close

to becoming the 10th -- but many at the Boulder clerk's office overnight used the word as synonymous with what Colorado law now permits.

The Rev. Kristen Hepp, who has presided over hundreds of weddings and commitment ceremonies through Colorado Commitments since 2001, was one of several officiants accommodating people who wanted to complete their unions on the spot.

"Every single person has said 'Yes, we consider this a marriage, we're calling it marriage,'" said Hepp, who described herself as "tickled" to see such a robust turnout in the middle of a stormy spring night.

As many people who were there to secure a civil union license, there was far more who braved the elements and sleep deprivation to celebrate with those who were making official their commitments.

Rudy Sumpter and Jim DeCoe, of Broomfield, together for 32 years and eight months, might have had the largest group of supporters, mustering roughly 25 people from the First Congregational Church of Boulder for a ceremony downstairs from the clerk's office. They were one more couple who called their union a marriage.

"I felt wrapped in love," said Sumpter, noting that his church pastor, assistant pastor, youth pastor, choir director, some choir members, work colleagues and others joined them for their big moment. "I don't even know how to describe it. It's beyond words. I've got goose bumps."

His pastor, the Rev. Martie McMane, also described the men's union as marriage.

"Sure," she said. "Why not? It's about love, and commitment, and faithfulness and covenant. That's what makes a marriage."

The personal is also political

And because there was also a political aspect to the significance of the overnight proceedings, it was not surprising to see more than one politician make an appearance. That included U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, who has long been open about his status as a gay member of Congress, and is a strong supporter of the LGBT community.

Polis, like most who were there, was amazed at how many people showed up.

"I really thought there'd be 10 or 12 couples at midnight," said Polis, who was handing out vegan cupcakes and signed certificates from his office honoring those obtaining their civil unions.

"I knew many, many couples in Boulder County would take advantage of this, but I figured many of them would schedule it at a more convenient time. But I completely understand the sentiment that, after 25 years or 35 years of a relationship, why waste a single moment more? Let's make sure we have the same legal protections as other Colorado families."

Clerk's spokesman Brad Turner said that of the 48 licenses handed out in today's wee hours, 32 were also recorded, meaning those couples "self-unionized" -- promptly completing the certificate and turning it back in -- or also had a ceremony at the county offices with an officiant. State law, actually, requires no ceremony, or officiant.

That leaves 16 of the original couples still to "unionize" and return their completed certificate at a later time. The last couple to obtain a license did so at 2:15 a.m., Turner said. Licenses will be available again today during normal business hours, at the clerk and recorder's Boulder office, as well as satellite offices in Louisville and Longmont.

Also present for the event was former Boulder County Attorney Larry Hoyt. Even though Hoyt led seminars in recent weeks explaining the law, and has many contacts within the LGBT community -- he and his partner married in California in 2008 -- he admitted nevertheless being quite surprised at the turnout.

"I just think there was a huge, pent-up demand for folks to have their relationships recognized, and this clearly shows that it has been building over these years and it hasn't happened up until now," said Hoyt.

"And all of a sudden, tonight, here it is."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Charlie Brennan at 303-473-1327 or brennanc@dailycamera.com.

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