Colorado voters favor civil unions, even if House doesn’t
By Bill Grant
What timing could be more appropriate than Valentine’s Day to introduce a bill that is all about love. State Sen. Pat Steadman’s Colorado Civil Unions Act (Senate Bill 172), introduced on Monday, is about love, but it’s not all romance.
The bill addresses the hard realities gay and lesbian couples face when they are denied fundamental legal protections that other couples depend on to manage their families.
Steadman’s bill grants to same-sex couples such rights as the ability to insure a partner, inherit property, take family leave to care for a partner, visit a partner in the hospital and to make medical end-of-life decisions for a partner.
Just as the law currently does for married couples, the bill would provide a legal exit from a failed relationship. “Having an orderly system to resolve those issues is a big protection,” Steadman told The Denver Post. “You’d have the same set of rules that everyone is accustomed to.”
“This is something that I think is long overdue,” Steadman told KUSA-TV, “something that will protect families and will make our laws a little bit more fair, and a little bit more inclusive so that everyone has the same opportunity to have economic security and stability in their family relationships.”
Not only does Steadman’s bill begin its legislative life on a propitious day, it comes at a time when Coloradans are ready to extend legal protections to gay couples.
An umbrella group called One Colorado has assembled a broad coalition of over 70 organizations, representing more than 500,000 Coloradans, to urge its passage.
In honor of Valentine’s Day and the introduction of the bill, One Colorado delivered 1,000 messages to legislators urging them to support civil unions.
Polls conducted over the past year, including one just over a week ago, show more than 70 percent of Coloradans support legally recognized domestic partnerships, including those between same-sex couples.
Attitudes have changed since 2006, when Colorado voters passed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The same year, voters rejected a referendum to legalize domestic partnerships.
While a majority still opposes same-sex marriage, support for domestic partnerships has increased significantly. The 2006 constitutional amendment ensures that domestic partnerships do not meet the state definition of marriage.
Today, according to pollster Tom Jensen, 40 percent of Coloradans approve of marriage for same-sex couples; 32 percent feel gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to form civil unions, but not marry; and only 25 percent think there should be no recognition of same-sex partnerships.
These figures confirm earlier polls, some of which found even higher percentages supporting civil unions.
Steadman believes the bill has a strong chance of passage in the Senate, where it has 19 co-sponsors. Though the bill should not be a partisan issue — gay and lesbian partners come in all political persuasions — the Democratic majority increases its chances for passage.
As The Denver Post pointed out last December, “with Republicans controlling the state House come January, 2011 may not be the optimal year to pass a civil union bill in Colorado. But relationship equality is one of the more important civil rights issues of our time, so it’s at least time to try again.”
Changing attitudes in Colorado are consistent with national trends. Repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy puts gay rights at the heart of civil rights policy. Will Colorado tell returning gay veterans that the rights they fought to protect do not fully apply to them?
Six states have already passed bills similar to Steadman’s Civil Unions Act, and others, like Maryland, are expected to do so soon.
The Senate should move quickly to pass the Civil Unions bill and send it to the House. Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty is on record promising the bill would get a fair hearing and not be shunted into a House committee to die of neglect.
Steadman has expressed concern the bill may not get the fair hearing McNulty promised. If that is to be the case, the sooner Coloradans know the better.
This is a popular bill, and if McNulty fails to move it forward, he can be pretty sure that the next 1,000 messages delivered to the Legislature won’t be valentines.