Civil unions on tap for Legislature
Gay marriage not part of Dems' agenda, speaker says
Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional series about bills that could be introduced during the 2013 Colorado legislative session.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that the Democratic Party plans to introduce a bill creating civil unions for same-sex couples when the 69th Colorado General Assembly convenes next month.
But for those who might expect the party to take advantage of the clear majority it now holds in the Colorado House and the Senate, and take the idea one step further and go for gay marriages, think again.
While that day may yet come, it isn’t right now, said incoming House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, the Denver Democrat who will become the state’s first openly gay speaker.
Doing so not only would call for special legislation allowing same-sex unions, but it also would require a ballot measure to repeal a 2006 ballot measure that declared marriage as being between a man and a woman.
“I don’t think we’re there yet as a state,” Ferrandino said of gay marriage. “What we need to do is make sure that couples in Colorado have the recognition and legal protections that we can afford them under the Constitution, so civil unions is the right thing to do.”
Ferrandino, along with another openly gay lawmaker, Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, had introduced a civil union bill during the 2012 session.
That measure cleared the Democratic-controlled Senate with little trouble, but later was killed in the then GOP-controlled House, even though there were enough Republican votes to pass it. It died when outgoing House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, used his authority to shut down all debate on the second-to-last day of the session, effectively killing it.
When the measure returned during a special session called by Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Denver Democrat who supports the idea, McNulty sent it to a committee whose members he had hand-picked, assuring its demise.
That won’t happen next year, Ferrandino promised.
“We saw a glaring example last session in which the will of the majority was denied,” he said. “Anything less than majority rule is intolerable in our democratic system of government.”
Though next year’s bill has not yet been drafted, the two men said it likely will be identical to this year’s measure.
Like marriages between heterosexual couples, the measure called on county clerks to issue civil union licenses similar to marriage licenses, including setting fees for them.
Unlike marriages, any two people regardless of gender could enter into civil unions if they were over the age of 18, were not related by blood and not married or part of another civil union.
Under the measure, they could divorce, either by petitioning a court for a dissolution or invalidation, such as an annulment.
Though critics have repeatedly said state law already allows it, those in civil-union couples would have the same access to laws married couples enjoy, such as the right to inherit a spouse’s possessions, make health care decisions, adopt children together and have protections from discrimination based on spousal status.
Still, the measure had it limits, primarily when it dealt with laws outside of the state. Civil union couples, for example, could not file joint tax returns because the IRS doesn’t recognize such unions, and they could not compel any church or religious organization to provide the same services or accommodations they might offer to married couples, such as a marriage ceremony.
Republican lawmakers who opposed civil unions aren’t happy about the idea, but some have come to the realization there’s not much they can do to stop it.
Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, had cast that swing vote against the measure during the special session even though some civil union advocates had hoped he wouldn’t. Coram’s son, Dee, a Montrose coffee shop owner, is openly gay.
Regardless of the 37-28 majority Democrats will have when the Legislature convenes Jan. 9, neither Coram nor several other Republicans plan to change their votes.
Though Coram said he’ll vote against the measure again because a majority of voters in his district oppose the idea, he said he’ll be glad the issue soon will be behind lawmakers.
“It’s something that keeps coming up,” Coram said. “Soon it will be over and behind us and we’ll move forward.”