Civil unions bill gains Senate approval

Vic Vela
Posted

Same-sex couples in Colorado are one step closer to the realization of civil unions following the passage of a bill in the state Senate on Feb. 11.

Senate Bill 11 — which would allow gay couples to enter into commitments similar to marriage — passed the General Assembly’s upper chamber with unanimous support from Democrats.

There was no debate on the bill before final passage. The Feb. 11 vote became a foregone conclusion after the Senate provided preliminary passage three days earlier, following a session in which several lawmakers gave passionate — and often personal — speeches, both in support and opposition of civil unions.

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, an openly gay lawmaker and bill sponsor, gave an emotional speech on Feb. 8.

“This is a moment that we have waited for,” Steadman said. “If two people are lucky enough to have found one another, why should the state of Colorado stand in their way?”

Steadman’s longtime partner, Dave Misner, died of pancreatic cancer last year. Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, choked back tears as she spoke in support of Steadman’s bill, referring to Misner’s death, as well as her brother’s struggles with coming out of the closet.

“This vote is for my brother Bill, and my friend Dave,” Newell said.

Republicans unsuccessfully offered amendments to the bill, including one from Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs that would have exempted practically any person or entity that objected to civil unions from providing services for those couples.

But Steadman said that such an amendment would fly in the face of non-discrimination laws. Steadman also implored those who hold strong religious beliefs, “Don’t let your free exercise run my life.”

“Get thee to a nunnery,” he told those seeking religious exemptions to his bill. “Go live a monastic life. Colleagues, this is not Mount Sinai. This is the Colorado Senate.”

Republicans also failed in their attempts to put civil unions on the ballot, rather than leave the issue up to lawmakers. In 2006, Colorado voters rejected a referendum that sought benefits for same-sex partners that were similar to civil unions.

“The overriding feeling that comes to mind for me ... disappointment,” said Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City. “I’m disappointed that the people of this great state cannot be trusted with a second chance at the ballot box.”

Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango was the lone Republican to vote for the bill.

“I believe this bill supports family values,” Roberts said.

Roberts also said that it’s important to note that her gay Senate colleagues are about more than just fighting for gay-rights issues.

“This issue is only one dimension of a homosexual person’s identity,” she said. “I prefer to look at them much more as multidimensional persons.”

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives, where it died last year. This is the third consecutive year that legislators have taken up civil unions, but it is expected to pass the Democratic-controlled House, and then be signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper this time around.

“Well, third time’s a charm, isn’t it?” Steadman said.

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