Promised Colorado civil unions bill could pass by Valentine’s Day
December 27, 2012 | 5:43 pm
(Updated: February 25, 2013 | 6:10 pm)
They say third time’s a charm. And for Colorado gay and lesbian couples eager to have their relationships validated by the state, that looks to be the case.
Nearly three years ago, with a chilly Valentine’s Day rally on the north steps of the state Capitol here, gay Denver Democrats state Sen. Pat Steadman and Rep. Mark Ferrandino introduced the Colorado Civil Union Act – legislation that would establish legal relationship recognition for same-sex couples.
And now, in a matter of a few short weeks, the political roller coaster that saw nearly a dozen suspenseful committee meetings and rallies, tears of joy and sorrow, and that re-wrote the political legacy of the two Republicans on opposite sides of the issue, could end on the very same day it started: Feb. 14.
This year, the final sprint for the civil union bill to the governor’s desk will be a brisk one.
Steadman and out lesbian state Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, will introduce the bill in the Senate on Jan. 9, the first day of the regular session. Ferrandino and out lesbian state Rep. Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge, will carry the bill in the House.
The 2012 election results – voters sending more than enough Democrats to take control of the House and to maintain the party’s edge in the Senate – paved the way for the bill to become law in the first three months of this year.
Republicans had previously controlled the House with a one-seat advantage, 33-32.
Despite an onslaught of courting by gay rights groups, and even some in their own party, House GOP leadership blocked the bill in both 2011 and 2012, while it cleared the Senate with bipartisan support both years.
Rendered to the minority party in the House by nine seats, the 2013 Republican caucus will be powerless to block the bill.
While no one, not even the bill sponsors, can publicly guarantee when the bill will be signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, several sources familiar with the bill’s track have privately told Out Front the bill will be signed as early as Valentine’s Day and no later than early March.
“We look forward to working with a historic number of openly LGBT legislators as they lead passage of this critical bill,” said Brad Clark, executive director of One Colorado, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization and the nonprofit funding the lobbying effort behind the bill. “The legislature has a lot of issues before them in 2013, from job creation to education. We expect civil unions to move through the legislature alongside dozens of other important bills, and we hope that LGBT Coloradans will be engaged in the legislative process on a variety of bills, not simply civil unions.”
Due to the expected expediency of the bill’s passage, One Colorado has moved up its annual Lobby Day from President’s Day on Feb. 18, to Feb. 4.
“Despite widespread support for civil unions, opponents of equality will do everything they can to continue to deny gay and lesbian couples critical protections,” Clark said. “As in years past, opponents will offer up lies and use scare tactics to try to derail civil unions. It’s important that LGBT Coloradans remain engaged in the process and ready to respond when opponents threaten progress.”
The Colorado General Assembly, by law, must adjourn by May 8.
“I’m looking forward to sending the bill to the Governor,” Ferrandino said.
Hickenlooper, a Democrat, will sign the bill after it’s passed by both chambers. In his 2012 state of the state address, he called for the bills passage.
And, after Republicans blocked a full vote of the House in the last days of the regular session, killing 30 other bills at the same time, Hickenlooper called a special session to allow the GOP the time they said they needed to debate the bill.
When the legislation becomes law, Colorado will become the ninth state to offer civil unions to same-sex couples. After the 2012 elections, an additional nine states offer full same-sex marriage to its residents.
Before Colorado’s laws can provide marriage equality here, a voter approved constitutional amendment would have to be overturned either by a vote of the people, or a wide ruling by the United States Supreme Court in its upcoming decision on California’s Proposition 8 case.
Most legal experts, including The GLTB Community Center of Colorado’s Mindy Barton, agree the latter is unlikely.
“It is important to note that regardless of a determination in either of these cases supporting equal marriage, both the Colorado constitution and our state statutes will still include language defining marriage in this state to be only between one man and one woman,” Barton said in a statement released shortly after the Court announced its decision to hear the Proposition 8 case.
One Colorado’s Clark said his organization is committed to realizing full marriage equality for Coloradans, but more work has to be done.
“Although public opinion is changing quickly, we still have work to do to build support among our friends and neighbors – which One Colorado is committed to doing in the months and years ahead,” Clark said. “In the meantime, civil unions will provide critical protections to vulnerable families in our state.”