Civil unions, at last
When the Colorado House Tuesday gave final approval to Senate Bill 11, it marked the end of a long effort by members of the gay and lesbian community in Colorado to win legal recognition of their relationships and something close to equal status with heterosexual married couples.
Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to sign the measure so that it can take effect May 1.
We applaud the Legislature’s action. A few decades from now, Americans will likely be appalled at the fact that, in the recent past, same-sex couples were denied equal rights. Just as people today are appalled that a generation ago the United States allowed states to enforce Jim Crow laws and treat blacks with the condescending fiction that they were “separate but equal.”
Republicans in the House who opposed the civil-unions bill complained it is different from a measure that was killed in the final hours of last year’s legislative session because its exemption for religious groups is much more narrowly defined.
However, Republicans have only themselves to blame for that, or at least their former House Speaker, Frank McNulty, who contrived to delay last year’s bill until it was too late, even though he knew it had enough votes to pass. Democrats gained control of the House in last year’s election, and it’s no surprise that, working with their Senate colleagues, they have crafted a different bill this year.
Most Coloradans will see little effect from the civil-unions bill, just as the residents of other states that have legalized civil unions or even gay marriage have not witnessed wholesale change in the behavior of their citizens or a sudden decline in conventional marriage as a result of the passage of those laws.
But for gay and lesbian couples in Colorado, who heretofore have been denied the right to share certain parts of their lives — from combining on insurance and retirement benefits to having legal authority to make decisions for an ill or dying companion — passage of SB 11 will mean a great deal, indeed.