Civil unions bill gets initial nod from Senate, House showdown looms

Colorado Capitol

Colorado Capitol

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DENVER — As it did a year ago, the state Senate Wednesday gave initial approval to a measure that would recognize civil unions between same-sex couples in Colorado.

The legislation, which is now one vote away from final passage in the Senate, faces dimmer prospects in the GOP-controlled House, which killed the same proposal a year ago.

Recognizing that, Sen. Pat Steadman, the bill’s sponsor, gave a long, impassioned speech on the Senate floor promising that this new civil rights battle isn’t going away.

“It is a bill I believe Colorado is ready for,” said Steadman, D-Denver, citing recent polls showing a vast majority of Coloradans in support of recognizing civil unions.

“I will bring this bill back year after year until it passes,” he said.

But, Steadman and the bill’s backers also decided against allowing a series of amendments from Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, that could have secured an important symbolic vote from one of the chamber’s most ardent conservatives that could have given House Republicans cover for allowing the bill to clear committee and make it to the floor.

“This issue has weighed on many of our minds and become increasingly difficult for me,” said Mitchell, who said his concerns about family values being threatened by civil unions have diminished but, after his amendments were voted down, decided to oppose the bill.

Senate Bill 2 would allow LGBT couples to take responsibility for each other financially and for their medical care, to inherit each other’s property, to adopt a partner’s child and to visit one another in the hospital.

“These protections have been in place for decades, Steadman said. “We’re all familiar with these. Families are all too familiar with the issues at stake here. And that’s why when a new class of people comes forward and says we wish to be included, it doesn’t seem all that far-fetched.”

A recent poll shows that 72 percent of Coloradans support civil unions. And at the outset of this legislative session, several prominent Colorado Republicans formed the group “Coloradans for Freedom” in an effort to highlight support for civil unions among limited-government conservatives.

“I don’t have anyone in my family who’s gay, as far as I know,” said Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, one of three republicans who voted for last year’s bill. “I’m not here for any reason except to say that this bill, the civil unions bill, is the right thing to do.”

For 90 minutes, a stream of Democrats walked to the well and spoke in favor of the bill.

Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, spoke about being a lesbian and how she feels singled out based on her orientation.

Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, and Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Blackhawk, both spoke about having visited their husbands in the hospital.

“No one ever questioned my right to be there,” Nicholson said.

Then, finally, a Republican stood and spoke in opposition to the bill.

“I think our Founding Fathers were very clear in where they stood about morality,” said Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley. “What’s left that distinguishes marriage?”

Knowing that Steadman has more than enough votes to pass the bill, Republicans spent little time in the well, prolonging the debate.

After a recorded vote later this week, the measure moves to the House for the climactic showdown.

It still doesn’t have a prime sponsor in the House, as Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, has tried to find a Republican to carry the bill before signing on to it as he did a year ago.

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