Fiery debate marks vote on civil unions
Dems able to advance bill over strong GOP objections
DENVER—It was a long time coming for House Democrats, but after several years of trying they were able to debate, and give preliminary approval to a bill Monday to allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.
That debate, which lasted for more than four hours, covered all aspects of Republicans’ arguments against the measure: from the argument that voters should be allowed to weigh in on the matter, to claims that it would discriminate against those who don’t believe same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.
“What this bill is about, really, is the Bible. Is it right or wrong?” said Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono.
“I fear that it is intended to push religious entities to the periphery,” added Rep. Tim Dore, R-Elizabeth. “If so, moral debate would be restricted to government, and driven away from those with moral authority, and thus make government the moral authority.”
House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, who introduced the measure with fellow Denver Democrat Sen. Pat Steadman, said ordinary Coloradans have made their feelings known over the matter, and that it was Republicans who mean to discriminate by trying to alter the bill to allow anyone with a “deep religious belief” to ignore someone’s civil union.
The bill includes only one exemption. It doesn’t require pastors, reverends, rabbis or any other other type of minister to perform a civil union.
That’s as far as Democrats would go.
“The one thing I won’t compromise is on equal rights,” Ferrandino said. “If you say, ‘I’m going to provide these types of services to someone,’ you don’t have the right to discriminate. You can’t say, ‘Because you’re Latino, I’m not going to serve you. Just because you’re black ... just because you’re gay, just because you’re too short.’ You can’t choose.”
Republicans argued that a similar measure that GOP leaders killed last year included a provision that allowed religious groups to deny services to same-sex couples, and questioned why this year’s bill couldn’t do that, too.
They said, as drafted, this year’s measure discriminates against religious people by telling them they must accept civil unions.
Democrats, however, said Republicans had it backward, and that a main tenet of religious belief is to be accepting of people, and not deny them a basic right as a marriage-like union.
“I’m just really trying to understand, when it’s 2013 and we can say with a straight face, ‘It’s OK to deny someone their rights,’ ” said Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora. “It’s OK to say, ‘You are different. We’re not going to let you partake in something that we have.’ I’m a Christian. What I remember from the Book of Luke is that it says the greatest commandment is to treat others as you would want to be treated.”
Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Colorado Springs, tried to amend the bill to send the measure to the 2015 ballot, saying voters in 2006 rejected a similar idea. That year, voters narrowly defeated Referendum I, which would have created domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.
That made Ferrandino mad.
“I’m just astounded by this,” Ferrandino shouted. “I don’t ask to put your relationships up for a vote of the people. Times have changed, but what hasn’t changed is the fact that fundamental civil rights should not be a vote of the people. It’s what we get elected to do, to make sure that we have equality under the law.”
The measure, which cleared the Senate last month, requires a final vote, which is expected to come later today. If that happens, it will head to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has said he will sign it.