Officially united

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Retha Williams and Pat Gipson formalized the first civil union in Montezuma County last week.

By Jim Mimiaga
Journal Staff Writer

Without much fanfare, longtime local couple Retha Williams and Pat Gipson made their relationship "official" in Colorado May 2, formalizing the first same-gender civil-union in Montezuma County.

After making history at the county clerk's office, they planned to buy a small cake and then go back to work. Then they had an idea.

"On the spur of the moment, we thought we'd stop by the newspaper to let our friends know, and other couples thinking about it, that it was an easy and pleasant experience," Williams said. "It's nothing to be scared about."

This is the second time that Williams and Gipson have legally recorded their union. Soon after Washington D.C. legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, the couple took trip to the capital for a vacation and to get married.

"Now we have two anniversary dates to remember!" laughed Gipson, 54.

The advantages for gay and lesbian couples to be legally recognized are significant, Williams explained.

Many laws are tied to legal marriages or civil unions and affect taxes, property rights, Social Security, military benefits, visitation rights and inheritance.

"For example, I was concerned about passing on inheritance, because without a civil union, it is taxed, so now it is not a worry," Williams, 72, said. "(Civil unions) make us feel like equal class citizens and gives us the rights any other married couple gets."

Without civil unions, Social Security benefits for same-sex couples do not transfer to the surviving spouse in the event of a death. Civil unions establish hospital visitation and consultation rights for gay and lesbian couples.

With a Democratic majority in both houses of the Colorado legislature, civil union legislation passed easily this year, after a bitter procedural battle last year blocked the way. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill March 21, and it became law May 1. Colorado still prohibits same-sex couples from marrying and does not recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

Montezuma County Deputy Clerk Lynn Dorenkamp agreed that recording the couple's brand new status went smoothly, thanks to preparation by the Colorado Secretary of State's office, with only a minor glitch printing out the right form.

"They were really nice and fun, and it went fine," she said.

"Any time there are new laws, it doesn't always work 100 percent the first time. We've had several phone calls about it, and we are ready for a rush."

A civil-union certificate costs $30, and does not have to be filled out immediately at the counter. Couples have 35 days to return the forms to legally register their commitment.

Williams and Gipson, who live north of Cortez and have been together for 12 years, say they have found acceptance here.

"We are no different from other couples," Williams said. "We have our disagreements and our make-ups. It's been a positive experience in this area."

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