Colorado civil union bill moves one step closer to House showdown

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April 25, 2012 | 1:56 pm
(Updated: February 25, 2013 | 1:21 pm)

The Colorado State Senate today gave its initial blessing to a bill that would establish civil unions here.

The Colorado Civil Union Act passed on second reading with bipartisan support. The Senate must debate and vote on the bill once more before it moves to the state House of Representatives — where a similar bill was killed last year by a Republican controlled committee.

Steadman

The bill, sponsored by gay Denver Democrat state Sen. Pat Steadman, would grant most of all the rights and responsibilities of marriage to any two Colorado adults regardless of gender. Colorado’s constitution defines marriage between a man and a woman.

“This bill does not create a lot of new law, but opens the door to protections and benefits that already exist,” Steadman said while introducing his bill.

“We need this bill, because life happens,” he said. “People have babies, they adopt, they die, … they have to admit someone to the Alzheimer’s ward at a nursing home.”

The bill is co-sponsored in the Senate by out lesbian Sen. Lucia Guzman.

“This bill is about continuing in the vein of making our country civil and equitable for all people,” she said.

If the bill becomes law, neither the Federal Government nor any state that does not offer similar relationship recognition status would recognize a Colorado civil union contract.

“This falls far, far short (of marriage),” Steadman said. “It is lesser, separate and unequal. Yet, thousands of people in Colorado long for this.”

State Sen. Nancy Spence was the first Republican to speak in favor of the bill. She said the bill was inline with GOP values.

“This bill, this civil unions bill, is the right thing to do,” she said. “… The less intrusive government is in our personal lives, the better.”

Several amendments — mostly technical — were discussed and approved. But the final amendment, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Shawn Mitchell, proved to be more contentious and failed at the hands of Democrats.

Mitchell’s amendment would have strengthen religious exemptions for service providers and facility owners. It would have allowed those who do not want to host a civil union ceremony or counsel a same-sex committed couple not to without fear of a lawsuit.

Mitchell had long been considered one of Colorado’s leading anti-gay lawmakers. However, last summer he shared his opinion on civil unions was evolving.

“I believe it’s possible to respond affirmatively to the desire of same-sex households for policies that meet their challenges and not stifle the free thought of other people in our society,” Mitchell said durning the debate.

The Senate is expected to take up Senate Bill 2 again tomorrow.

From there the bill will be sent to the House and — most likely — be immediately assigned to the House Judiciary Committee and scheduled for sometime the week of April 30.

Executive Director of One Colorado, a statewide LGBT advocacy organization, Brad Clark applauded the Senate’s actions and called for a fair hearing in the House.

“Civil unions are about commitment. They’re about responsibility. And they’re about being able to take care of the one you love. Today’s bipartian vote in the Senate affirms the dignity of all loving families in the state,” Clark said. “We look forward to a fair hearing in the House. Issues with overwhelming public support like civil unions deserve an up-or-down vote by all of our Representatives.”

Republicans have a one seat majority over Democrats, 33-32, therefore controlling committees.

Supporters of the bill had hoped to have found a House Republican co-sponsor for the bill, reasoning it would have a better chance of clearing a committee to the full Houe floor where it is believed to have enough support to pass. However, no GOP support has yet to be identified.

House Minority Leader Rep. Mark Ferrandino will most likely carry the bill if a sponsor is not identified by its final vote. Ferrandino was the bill’s co-sponsor last year.

Coloradans approved Amendment 43 in 2006 limiting the definition of marriage. The same year, voters decided against a referendum that would have created domestic partnerships.

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