Colorado’s civil unions bill advances in state Senate

March 23, 2011 | 9:00 am
(Updated: February 25, 2013 | 6:11 pm)

Colorado’s State Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill establishing civil unions in Colorado on March 7, by a 6-3 vote.  Five Democrats and one Republican voted for the measure.


The bill provides same-sex couples with critical legal protections, such as the ability to inherit property, make medical decisions for one another, and qualify for survivor benefits, as well as the responsibility to financially support a partner. If it becomes law, Colorado would become the 17th U.S. state to accord some form of legal recognition to same-sex couples.


“This bill ensures that everyone has equal access to state law,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, author of the bill. “It is about commitment and responsibility.”


“We applaud [the] vote to ensure that all committed couples have the tools they need to provide for the ones they love,” said Brad Clark, director of One Colorado, a statewide LGBT advocacy organization.


The bill also cleared the Senate Finance Committee, where it was reviewed for any impact on the state budget. It passed on party lines, 4-3.


At deadline, the bill was scheduled to appear before the Senate Appropriations Committee March 18 where it is expected to pass and be forwarded to the full Senate floor for debate and a vote.


The next hurdle the legislation faces is committee action in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. “Once in the House, Speaker Frank McNulty makes the decision as to what committee to assign it,” said Mindy Barton, legal director at the GLBT Community Center of Colorado. “We hope he gives the bill a fair chance.”


If the bill survives House committee action, it stands a fair chance of passing on the House floor. “There are a few Republican representatives who’ve said they support this bill or the idea of civil unions,” Barton said. It is important, she added, that constituents reach out to their representatives, whether Democrat or Republican, and let them know why they need this legislation.


The Senate committee’s action followed four hours of emotional and contentious testimony both for and against civil unions.


Opponents argued that the bill violated Colorado’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage that voters enacted in 2006. Some claimed it was contrary to biblical prohibitions. One man denounced his gay life as an “addiction” in which he never found love. And one grandmother gave the committee a short lecture on anal anatomy and function.


A gay couple opposed civil unions as mere “crumbs.” “Civil unions do nothing to further marriage equality,” said Tom Carllon, who dismissed the idea as a “crude parallel to marriage.”


His husband, Gabe Martinez, testified, “This bill legislates second-class citizenship for same-sex couples.” The couple married in California in 2008.


But proponents presented impassioned testimony that civil unions would make a real difference in their lives. Fran and Anna Simon testified that although couples could go through complicated legal procedures to protect their relationship to a degree, “These are costly legal documents and can easily be challenged.”


Rev. Curtis Preston of Lakewood United Church of Christ testified for a coalition of 130 religious leaders. “As a person of faith, I feel called to stand up beside and speak for any group who society would treat unjustly,” he told the committee.


Alexander Hornaday of the LGBT Log Cabin Republicans urged his fellow Republicans on the committee to support SB 172 in the spirit of President Ronald Reagan and family values.


“What we have here is an opportunity to encourage and solidify stable, long-term relationships built – like any family – out of respect and commitment,” he said.


Sen. Morgan Carroll said that while she supports full marriage equality, she supported this bill. She said, “I cannot turn my back on the specific protections gained in this bill.”


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