When I heard about the civil union bill in Colorado, I did what I always do...check the fine print. And the first thing I looked for was whether different-sex couples were eligible. I needed to check the bill for that because the press didn't report it, not the New York Times, or Huffington Post, or the Denver Post. The answer is...yes. Colorado joins Illinois and Hawaii as states that don't discriminate in civil unions on the basis of sex or sexual orientation. Nevada and the District of Columbia allow different-sex couples to enter the equivalent status, which they call domestic partnership. (D.C. allows any two people who live together in a committed, familial relationship to enter a domestic partnership).
Colorado also retains a unique status of designated beneficiaries, which I've written about extensively in these posts. It allows people to tailor the legal consequences they want to their specific relationship, rather than being the all-or-nothing of marriage or civil unions.
With all the focus on same-sex couples and marriage, civil union is generally portrayed as a second-best way station until equality comes with access to the word "marriage." But when the status is available to different-sex couples it provides a choice for those who have reasons not to marry. In the first three and a half months in Illinois, 87 different-sex couples registered. As this survey shows, they had varying reasons.
Illinois may be on its way to marriage equality. The current proposal leaves civil unions in place. DC has marriage equality, and it has retained domestic partnership.
Why does all this matter to me? I want respect for all families. When marriage is on a pedestal, all other forms of families are devalued. Civil unions for different-sex couples create a small opening, a crack in the pedestal. It's not enough, but it's better than the way station approach.