Marriage brings many benefits under the law. Among those benefits are rights which accrue to the parents and children in the event of divorce, including the rights to spousal support, child custody or child support under Colorado family law. Many of these same legal protections can be obtained by means of civil unions.

With the Supreme Court decision on October 6 not to review several lower court decisions striking down prohibitions on gay marriage, it appears gay marriage is now legal in Colorado. Many couples, however, both gay and straight, may still wish to consider civil union as an alternative to traditional marriage.

In general, a civil union legalizes the relationship between two people. It recognizes the relationship of two people either of the opposite sex or the same sex, providing legal protection to the couple. When it comes to family law, however, couples who enter civil unions are not eligible for federal benefits, protections and responsibilities between couples. There are six states that have enacted civil union statutes for both heterosexual and same-sex couples. Among these states is Colorado.

The Colorado Legislature passed a law that establishes civil unions for same sex couples in 2013. It was passed on March 21, 2013, and took effect on May 1, 2013. The law gives same-sex couples eligibility for many of the same benefits, rights and protections as married couples under Colorado family law. The bill also acknowledges civil unions from other jurisdictions.

Civil unions may have several disadvantages. Family law statutes regarding civil unions vary from state to state. This is a big obstacle for couples under civil unions, because their legal relationship and protection only applies to the state where they apply for the union. In addition, same-sex couples who are in a civil union may not be entitled to federal benefits. Although the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, the ruling regarding federal benefits does not affect couples in civil unions.

Source: NCSL, "Civil Unions & Domestic Partnership Statutes", Accessed October 2, 2014