LGBT rights in Colorado

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Map of USA CO.svg
StatusLegal since 1972
Gender identityYes
Discrimination protectionsYes (both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression)
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsSame-sex marriage legal since 2014
Civil unions legal since 2013
Designated beneficiary agreements legal since 2009

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in the U.S. state of Colorado live in one of the more socially liberal US states with wider protections for LGBT people. Same-sex sexual activity is legal in Colorado and the state recognizes same-sex marriages.

Law regarding same-sex sexual activity[edit]

In 1860 sodomy was made illegal in Colorado – then the Jefferson Territory – under its first criminal code, which indirectly prohibited sodomy by expressly recognizing English common law, under which the maximum penalty for sodomy was death. In 1861, the United States Congress created the Colorado Territory, whose government enacted a criminal code that punished sodomy, defined by English common law, with penalties ranging from one year to life in prison.[1] In 1922 the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the ban did not prohibit fellatio, even through the court felt that the behavior was "more vile and filthy than sodomy".[2] The law was revised in 1939 to expressly cover anal sex and fellatio, and the maximum penalty was reduced to fourteen years. In 1953, Colorado enacted a psychopathic offender law that provided for indefinite institutionalization for committing sex crimes, thus putting homosexuals in the same category as rapists and child molesters. In 1970, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the ban also included cunnilingus.

In 1971 Colorado revised its penal code and decriminalized sodomy in cases that involved non-commercial, private acts between consenting adults.[3] At the same time it instituted a public indecency law that banned public displays of affection between same-sex couples. The Colorado Supreme Court struck down that statute in 1974.[4]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

In 1975, the Boulder County Clerk issued marriage licenses to several same-sex couples after the local district attorney interpreted Colorado's statutes, which used the phrase "any two persons", to be gender-neutral with respect to marriage. The state attorney general issued a contrary opinion that those marriages were invalid.[5] When one of those married in Boulder tried to use it to sponsor his husband for immigration purposes, he lost his case, Adams v. Howerton, in federal court.[6]

In 1996, Governor Roy Romer vetoed HB 96-1291 which would have banned recognition of same-sex marriages. In his notice to the legislature, Governor Romer wrote "It is one thing to believe, as I do, that marriage is for the union of a man and woman. It is quite another to believe that committed same sex relationships do not exist and should not be recognized by society."[7]

In 2006, a state referendum added language to the Colorado Constitution that restricted marriage and common law marriage to couples of different sexes, without mentioning civil unions or domestic partnerships.[8]

In April 2009, Colorado enacted a Designated Beneficiaries law, effective July 1, that allowed anyone to make a same-sex partner the beneficiary of insurance, inheritance, hospital visitations, funeral arrangements and death benefits, and other important matters.[9]

In 2011 and 2012, state lawmakers attempted but failed to pass an act formally recognizing civil unions,[10] though Governor John Hickenlooper endorsed the legislation in his 2012 State of the State address.[11]

In March 2013, both houses of the Democratic-controlled state legislature passed legislation establishing civil unions that provide rights comparable to those provided opposite-sex married couples and Governor Hickenlooper signed the bill into law on March 21, 2013. The law went into effect on May 1, 2013.[12]

Governor Hickenlooper signed a bill permitting joint state income tax filing for civil union and out-of-state same-sex married couples.[13]

On February 19, 2014, nine same-sex couples, some unmarried and some married in other jurisdictions, filed a lawsuit in state court challenging the state's definition of marriage and arguing that civil unions have created a "second-class level of citizenship" for gays and lesbians. The suit, McDaniel-Miccio v. Hickenlooper, named Governor Hickenlooper and the Denver City Clerk as defendants. The clerk has expressed support for same-sex marriage.[14] Attorney General John Suthers, a Republican, announced he would defend the state constitution's definition of marriage.[15] On October 6, Suthers asked the Tenth Circuit to dismiss his appeal and lift the stay after the U.S. Supreme Court left in place as binding precedent other Tenth Circuit decisions holding bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional in Oklahoma and Utah.[16] Same-sex marriage became legal on October 7, 2014 after the Colorado Supreme Court lifted the last legal barriers and Attorney General John Suthers told clerks around the state to begin issuing licenses.[17]

U.S. Government Recognition of 1975 Same-Sex Marriage in Boulder[edit]

In 2016, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reversed its decision from 1975 and granted permanent resident status to Anthony Sullivan, based on his marriage to Richard Adams in Boulder on April 21, 1975.[18]

Adoption and parenting[edit]

A single person can adopt in Colorado.[19] Second-parent adoptions are permitted under state law,[19] though the process is more elaborate and expensive than that required of married couples.[20]

Catholic adoption agencies do not place children either with single persons or with same-sex couples and have said they will not do so if the state enacts civil unions.[21][22]


In Colorado, it has been illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and credit since the category "sexual orientation" was added to the state's Public Accommodations Law in 2008. The bill was controversial and following its passage by the legislature opponents waged a media campaign that failed to persuade Governor Bill Ritter to withhold his signature.[23]

On November 3, 1992, Colorado voters approved Initiative 2, an initiated constitutional amendment which added language to the state constitution that prohibited the state and all of its subdivisions from allowing "homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships" to provide the basis for any "claim any minority status, quota preferences, protected status or claim of discrimination." In 1994, the Colorado Supreme Court found the amendment unconstitutional.[24] In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Romer v. Evans that the amendment, because it "allows discrimination against homosexuals and prevents the state from protecting them", was "motivated by animus towards homosexuals" and violated their rights under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.[25]

In June 2012, a gay couple who had married in Massachusetts tried to purchase a wedding cake at a bakery in Lakewood, Colorado, and were refused. They sued to force the bakery to provide them with the same services as other customers[26] and on December 6 Administrative Law Judge Robert N. Spencer ruled for the plaintiffs in Craig v. Masterpiece Cakeshop. He dismissed the bakery's claim that requiring the business to provide the service violated its owner's rights to free speech or religious expression.[27] In June 2018 this ruling was thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court on a 7 to 2 ruling in favor of the defendant.

Hate crime law[edit]

The state's hate crime law has provided protections based on both sexual orientation and gender identity or expression since 2001.[28] In 2009, in a case thought to be "the first in which a hate crime law was applied in a murder trial where the victim was transgender", a jury in Greeley convicted a man of first-degree murder and found that it was a hate crime under Colorado law.[29]

Conversion therapy[edit]

On March 10, 2015, the Colorado House of Representatives approved 35–29 a bill banning sexual orientation change efforts (conversion therapy) with minors.[30] However, the bill failed to pass through the Colorado Senate.

On March 17, 2016, the House voted 35-29 in favor of a bill sponsored by Dominick Moreno which would outlaw the use of conversion therapy on LGBT minors.[31][32][33][34] The bill was postponed indefinitely in a Senate committee in a 3-2 vote on April 11, 2016.[35][36]

In March 2017, the Colorado House of Representatives passed for the third time a ban on conversion therapy on minors, but got blocked for the third time in three years in the Colorado Senate.[37][38]

In December 2018, Denver introduced a proposal banning conversion therapy on LGBT minors by an ordinance. The proposal passed council committee and floor votes unanimously by a vote of 13-0 on 7 January, 2019. The ordinance is now in effect immediately after a signature from the Mayor of Denver a week later.[39][40] Denver became the first jurisdiction within Colorado to legally implement a ban on conversion therapy on LGBT minors.[41][42]

On February 19, 2019, the Colorado House of Representatives passed a bill which would ban the use conversion therapy on minors, with a 42–19 majority.[43] The Colorado Senate approved the bill on March 25 with a 21–13 majority.[44] The bill was amended within the Colorado Senate sent back to the Colorado House of Representatives for another vote[45]. On May 31, 2019, Gov. Jared Polis, the United States' first openly-gay governor, signed the bill into law. [46] Colorado became the 18th U.S. state (plus the District of Columbia) to ban the use of the discredited practice on minors.[47]

Gender identity or expression[edit]

Between 1 January, 1984 to 13 February, 2019 within Colorado, to change your sex or gender on an individuals birth certificate legally required sexual reassignment surgery.[48] However since February 14, 2019 sexual reassignment surgery will no longer be legally required on Colorado birth certificates, due to a change of policy unanimously voted by the board Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment adopted and implemented on 20 December, 2018. Male, female and non-binary options of both intersex and gender X will be legally available on the birth certificate for adults and only intersex, male, and female options will be legally available for children.[49][50][51]

Since November 2018, Colorado has legally provided gender X on driver's license forms and other I.Ds.[52]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 1972)
Equal age of consent Yes (Since 1972)
Anti-discrimination laws in all areas Yes (Since 2008 for sexual orientation and gender identity)
Same-sex marriages Yes (Since 2015 nationwide)
Recognition of same-sex couples (e.g. civil union) Yes (Since 2013)
Joint and stepchild adoption by same-sex couples Yes (Since 2015 nationwide)
Right to change legal gender and third gender options Yes (Gender X for both drivers licenses and birth certificates by regulation since 2019)
Access to IVF for lesbians Yes
Conversion therapy banned on minors Yes (Since 2019)
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples Emblem-question.svg
MSMs allowed to donate blood Yes/No (1 year deferral; federal policy)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Henry, Robin Courtney (2006). Criminalizing Sex, Defining Sexuality: Sodomy, Law, and Manhood in Nineteenth-Century Colorado. Indiana University. pp. 23–5. ISBN 9780542811654.
  2. ^ The Pacific Reporter, vol. 263, 22: Robinson v. People, 23 Colo. 123, 46 p. 676
  3. ^ Eskridge, William N. (2008). Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America, 1861-2003. NY: Viking Penguin. pp. 177–8. ISBN 9780670018628.
  4. ^ "People v. Gibson :: 1974 :: Colorado Supreme Court Decisions :: Colorado Case Law :: US Case Law :: US Law :: Justia". April 15, 1974. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  5. ^ Eskridge Jr., William N.; et al. (2006). Gay Marriage: for Better or for Worse?: What We've Learned from the Evidence. NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 22–3. ISBN 9780195187519.
  6. ^ Leagle, Inc.: Adams v. Howerton, 486 F. Supp. 1119 (C.D.Cal.1980) Archived March 21, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. Accessed July 30, 2011
  7. ^ "Romer, Veto Statement for Colorado HB 96-1291". March 25, 1996. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  8. ^ "Colorado Amendment 43, Definition of Marriage (2006)". Ballotpedia. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  9. ^ "Ritter signs bill that will help gay couples". The Denver Post. Associated Press. April 9, 2009. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  10. ^ Bartels, Lynn (May 27, 2012). "Anarchy, chaos behind Colorado civil unions bill may have long-lasting effects". Denver Post. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  11. ^ "2012 State of the State, January 12, 2012". State of Colorado. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  12. ^ Moreno, Ivan (March 21, 2013). "Civil Unions Signed Into Law in Colorado". USA Today. Retrieved March 21, 2013.
  13. ^ "Joint Tax-Filing For Gays Signed In Colorado". February 27, 2014. Retrieved April 5, 2014.
  14. ^ Hendrick, Thomas (February 19, 2014). "9 couples file lawsuit challenging Colo. gay marriage ban". KDVR. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  15. ^ Lamp, Mike (March 10, 2014). "Colo. attorney general to defend same-sex marriage ban". Colorado Public Radio. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  16. ^ "Unopposed Motion to Dismiss Appeal, October 6, 2014". Retrieved October 7, 2014.
  17. ^ Colorado AG: County clerks must issue gay marriage licenses
  18. ^ "United States Government says L.A. Gay Couple's 1975 Marriage is Valid". the pride. June 7, 2016. Retrieved June 7, 2016.
  19. ^ a b "Colorado Adoption Law". State Laws & Legislation. Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved January 29, 2013.
  20. ^ Bernard, Tara Siegel (July 20, 2012). "A Family With Two Moms, Except in the Eyes of the Law". New York Times. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  21. ^ Rittiman, Brandon (January 25, 2013). "Catholic adoption agencies vow not to serve gay couples". Retrieved January 29, 2013.
  22. ^ Kyle, Sarah Jane (March 12, 2013). "Catholic Charities: Adoption services 'imperiled' by civil unions passage". The Coloradoan. Retrieved March 13, 2013.
  23. ^ Ingold, John (July 29, 2008). "Ritter signs controversial anti-discrimination bill". Denver Post. Retrieved December 6, 2013.
  24. ^ Solotoff, Lawrence (2006). Sex Discrimination and Sexual Harassment in the Work Place. NY: Law Journal Press. pp. 1–14. ISBN 9781588520623.
  25. ^ Koppelman, Andrew (2002). The Gay Rights Question in Contemporary American Law. University of Chicago Press. pp. 6ff. ISBN 9780226451039.
  26. ^ Richardson, Valerie (December 3, 2013). "Gay couple's complaint against Colo. baker gets hearing". Washington Times. Retrieved December 6, 2013.
  27. ^ Moreno, Ivan (December 6, 2013). "Judge orders Colorado cake-maker to serve gay couples Read more: Judge orders Colorado cake-maker to serve gay couples". Denver Post. Retrieved December 6, 2013.
  28. ^ "Colorado Hate Crimes Law". State Laws and Legislation. Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  29. ^ Frosch, Dan (April 22, 2009). "Murder and Hate Verdict in Transgender Case". New York Times. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  30. ^ "Ban on gay conversion therapy passes Colorado House". KKCO NBC 11 News. March 11, 2015.
  31. ^ "Colorado advances ban on 'gay cure' therapy for teens". PinkNews. March 17, 2016.
  32. ^ House Bill 16-1210
  33. ^ "Ban on Conversion Therapy Clears Colorado House". Public News Service. March 18, 2016.
  34. ^ "Gay Conversion Therapy Ban Passes Colorado House". The Denver Channel. March 17, 2016.
  35. ^ "Gay conversion therapy ban dies in Colorado Senate". April 11, 2016.
  36. ^ "Conversion Therapy Ban Dies in Senate". WesternSlopeNow. April 12, 2016.
  37. ^ [1]
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  41. ^ Proposed Denver LGBT conversion therapy ban for minors advances to City Council
  42. ^ [5]
  43. ^ Goodland, Marianne (February 20, 2019). "Colorado House approves ban on conversion therapy".
  44. ^ Goodland, Marianne (March 25, 2019). "Legislature sends ban on conversion therapy for minors to Polis".
  45. ^ [6]
  46. ^ News, A. B. C. "Nation's 1st gay governor bans conversion therapy for minors". ABC News. Retrieved June 2, 2019.
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