Colorado Definition of Marriage, Initiative 43 (2006)

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The Colorado Definition of Marriage Initiative, also known as Initiative 43, was on the November 7, 2006 ballot in Colorado as an initiated constitutional amendment, where it was approved. The measure specified the only recognized marriages in Colorado as occurring between one man and one woman. The "Definition of Marriage Initiative" amended the Colorado Constitution by adding a new section, Section 31, to Article II. Section 31 said, "Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state."[1]

Amendment 43 was one of two statewide measures that Colorado voters faced in the November 2006 election that dealt with the definition of marriage and civil partnerships. The other, Referendum I, would have authorized domestic partnerships, but it was defeated.[2]


Federal appeals court ruling

On June 25, 2014, a three member panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down bans on gay marriage in the states of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming. This was the first ruling made by a federal appeals court on this issue, which sets a historic precedent that voter-approved bans on same-sex marriage violate the Fourteenth Amendment rights of same-sex couples to equal protection and due process.[3]

The court states:[4]

We hold that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right to marry, establish a family, raise children, and enjoy the full protection of a state’s marital laws. A state may not deny the issuance of a marriage license to two persons, or refuse to recognize their marriage, based solely upon the sex of the persons in the marriage union. For the reasons stated in this opinion, we affirm. [5]

A recording of the decision can be heard here

Following the ruling by the circuit court, Colorado judge C. Scott Crabtree struck down the marriage ban in Colorado, saying it violates both the state and federal constitutions.[6]

Stay of decision

Implementation of the decision was immediately stayed pending anticipated appeals to either the full appeals panel or the United States Supreme Court. Despite the stay, the Boulder County Clerk began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples immediately, and stated that she planned to continue to do so. However, Attorney General John Suthers said that for the time being, the ban on gay marriage remained in effect and that any licenses issued during the stay would be invalid.[7][8]

United States Supreme Court

On October 6, 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear the case appealing the decision of the federal circuit court, thus allowing the ruling of the Tenth Circuit Court to stand and making same-sex marriage "presumptively legal" in Colorado.[9]

Election results

Colorado Initiative 43 (2006)
OverturnedotOverturned Case:Burns v. Hickenlooper 
Yes 855,126 55.02%

Election results via: Colorado Secretary of State Elections Department

Text of measure

The language appeared on the ballot as:[1][10]

An amendment to the Colorado constitution, concerning marriage, and, in connection therewith, specifying that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Colorado.[5]

Summary and analysis

The Colorado Legislative Council is charged with providing a summary and analysis of each measure on the Colorado ballot. ("The state constitution requires that the nonpartisan research staff of the General Assembly prepare these analyses and distribute them in a ballot information booklet to registered voter households.")

To describe Amendment 43, they said:

Definitions of marriage affecting Coloradans. Federal statutes define marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman for purposes of all federal laws relating to marital status. Colorado statutes define marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman for purposes of the state's laws relating to marital status.

For a marriage to be valid under Colorado statutes, it must be: (1) between a man and a woman; and (2) licensed, solemnized, and registered according to established procedures. In addition, Colorado recognizes common law marriage between a man and a woman who live together and hold themselves out publicly as husband and wife. Common law marriages are treated exactly the same as licensed marriages.

Legal effects of marriage in Colorado. The marriage relationship in Colorado provides spouses with a number of legal rights, responsibilities, and benefits, including:

  • collecting benefits such as pensions, life insurance, and workers' compensation without being

designated as a beneficiary;

  • jointly incurring and being held liable for debts;
  • making medical treatment decisions for each other;
  • protection from discrimination based on marital status in areas such as employment and housing;
  • filing income taxes jointly; and
  • ending a marriage and distributing property through a legal process.

Fiscal impact

See also: Fiscal impact statement

The fiscal estimate provided by the Colorado Legislative Council said:

Amendment 43 is not expected to affect state and local revenues or spending. Costs that may result from potential legal challenges to the amendment cannot be estimated.



Groups supporting Amendment 43 included:

  • The Colorado Family Action Issue Committee
  • Coloradans for Marriage

Arguments in favor

Supporters argued that:

  • "The public has an interest in preserving the commonly accepted definition of marriage. Marriage as an institution has historically consisted of one man and one woman and, as such, provides the optimal environment for creating, nurturing, and protecting children and preserving families."[11]
  • "A constitutional amendment is necessary to avoid court rulings that expand marriage beyond one man and one woman in Colorado. In Massachusetts, a statutory definition was not sufficient to prevent a court from requiring the state to recognize same-sex marriages. Any change to the definition of marriage should be determined by the voters, not judges."[11]


Campaign cash Campaign Finance Ballotpedia.png
Category:Ballot measure endorsements Support: $1,376,486
Circle thumbs down.png Opposition: $5,459,145
Total: $6,835,630

$1,376,486 was contributed to the campaign in favor of a "yes" vote on Amendment 43.[12]

Significant donors included:

Donor Amount
Focus on the Family Action $658,208
Focus on the Family $388,496
Edward McVaney $100,000
Colorado Catholic Conference $93,596



Groups opposing the measure included:

  • "Coloradans for Fairness"
  • "Don't Mess with Marriage"
  • The "Bell Ballot Action" group[13]

Arguments against

Opponents argued that:

  • "Language that limits marriage to opposite-sex couples does not belong in Colorado's Bill of Rights, which generally guarantees individual rights. Amendment 43 may be unconstitutional because it denies same-sex couples and their children the legal benefits and protections that are available to married couples and their children."[11]
  • "Adding the proposed language to the constitution is unnecessary because there is already a statutory ban in Colorado on any marriage that does not consist of one man and one woman. Additionally, federal statutes define marriage as between one man and one woman for purposes of federal laws."[11]


Campaign cash Campaign Finance Ballotpedia.png
Category:Ballot measure endorsements Support: $1,376,486
Circle thumbs down.png Opposition: $5,459,145
Total: $6,835,630

$5,459,145 was contributed to the campaign in favor of a "no" vote on Amendment 43.[12] Since some of the committees that opposed Amendment 43 also played a role in other ballot measures on the 2006 Colorado ballot, it isn't possible to definitely know how much of the funds they raised went specifically to oppose Amendment 43.

Donors of $25,000 or more were:

Donor Amount
Gill Action Fund $3,626,884
Jon L. Stryker $550,000
Patricia A. Stryker $250,000
SEIU $150,000
Herbert M. and Marion O. Sandler $50,000
Jared Polis $42,421

Related measures

Voters in 30 states have approved legislatively-referred constitutional amendments or initiated constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriages at the ballot box. The first constitutional prohibition was in 1998, and the latest one occurred in May 2012. Most of these amendments define marriage along the lines of a "union of one male and one female."


The following constitutional bans were approved by voters, but later overturned by courts:


Cases overturning the following bans have been appealed to higher courts and are currently stayed:

Note: Same-sex marriage is legal in St. Louis County and the state recognizes same-sex marriages.


The following constitutional bans were approved by voters and have been upheld or not overturned by courts:


The following constitutional bans were defeated by voters:

Note: Arizonans defeated a measure in 2006, but approved one in 2008, which has been overturned.

See also

External links

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