Civil unions bill faces toughest test yet

DENVER — A bill to allow civil unions for same-sex couples is in the hands of a committee that includes Republicans from some of Colorado’s most conservative counties, who will decide today whether the proposal goes to the full House.

The measure easily passed the Senate last week with three Republicans joining all the Democrats voting for it. But Democrats concede it’s unclear whether it will make it out of a GOP-led committee. Democrats say Senate Bill 172 could clear the House if all members there are allowed to vote.

Couples in civil unions would have rights similar to married couples, including the ability to be involved in their partner’s medical decisions. The bill would enhance inheritance rights and make it easier for couples to list each other as dependents on health insurance. The bill would also address circumstances in which children are being raised by two parents but only one is recognized as the legal guardian responsible for child support.

Seven states have passed civil union legislation or similar legal recognitions for gay couples. Hawaii and Illinois were the most recent to pass civil union laws.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has previously said he supports civil unions. His office read a letter on his behalf during a rally outside the Capitol just before the committee was to hear the bill. Hickenlooper urged lawmakers in the committee to send the bill to a full vote of the House.

“It’s pretty simple: What’s fair for one person should be fair for the next,” he said in the letter. “Everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, should have the same legal rights.”

During sometimes emotional debate in the Senate last week, Democrats cited personal experiences for supporting the bill and said the proposal was a matter of equal rights for everyone. Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, who is gay, recounted how his father’s wife was able to be by his side when he was in the hospital and spoke on his behalf to allow visitors because he was unable to speak after suffering a stroke. Steadman told his colleagues he sometimes wondered what would happen to him if he were ever in the same position as his father.

Republicans who opposed civil unions in the Senate said it would undermine marriage and go against the wishes of voters who rejected a domestic partnerships referendum in 2006 and also banned gay marriage the same year.

At another rally outside the Capitol in opposition of the bill, people sang a Catholic hymn — a much more low key demonstration than what was happening on the other side of the building, where dozens of people waved rainbow-colored flags and chanted, “Love for you, love for me, it’s about equality!”

Rep. Mark Ferrandino, another gay lawmaker who is sponsoring the bill in the House, told dozens of supporters outside the Capitol that it’s only a matter of time before civil unions are allowed.

“We don’t know what the outcome of today is yet — we’ll see that hopefully in a few hours,” he said. “I’m hoping it’s going to be a good outcome and we’ll get it to the floor. But, whatever the outcome is, know this: Civil unions is not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”


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