Civil-unions bill moves ahead

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Jeremy Simon is only 5 years old, but his knowledge of what was happening inside a Colorado Capitol committee hearing room Jan. 23 might already make him qualified to teach a civics class.

“They’re trying to change the law,” he said, when asked what was happening that day.

And what makes the law important?

“So my moms can be together,” Jeremy said.

Young Jeremy was one of many people who packed the Old Supreme Court Chambers inside the Capitol to hear, and to provide testimony on, what has long been a contentious issue: civil unions for gay couples.

As expected, the bill — which would allow gay couples to enter into commitments that are similar to marriage — passed the five-member Senate Judiciary Committee along party lines, following a hearing that lasted more than four hours.

The bill will now head to another committee in the Senate and is expected to ultimately become law, because of the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

The bill’s sponsor, openly gay Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, whose district includes part of Arapahoe County, said the legislation would recognize “the love between committed couples.”

“When two people are lucky enough to have found someone they want to spend the rest of their lives with, why should the state of Colorado stand in the way?” Steadman said during his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill could allow gay couples to begin the steps of entering into civil unions on May 1. They would be afforded many legal, medical and property rights, as well as the ability to adopt children.

However, the bill does not allow gay couples in civil unions to file joint tax returns, at least until “statutory change is enacted,” according to the bill.

Last year’s version of the bill died in a separate, Republican-controlled committee.

“Today, you have the opportunity to finish what should have been started nine months ago,” said Brad Clark of Colorado One, a gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group.

Clark was one of many people who testified in support of the bill, several of whom offered emotional stories of having first met their partners several years ago — 17 years for Brian Bowles of Denver.

“This is a human issue,” Bowles testified. “The greatest thing we have is love.”

Jean Fredland of Adams County testified that, to her knowledge, none of her children or grandchildren is gay. But she equated the battle over civil unions as “a civil rights issue,” and said the opposition to the bill is offering “the same arguments I heard against civil rights in the ’60s and ’70s.”

Meanwhile, there were plenty of critics who spoke out against the bill. And they were particularly upset that — unlike last year’s version — the bill does not exempt adoption agencies with religious convictions against same-sex unions from placing children with those couples.

Kellie Fiedorek of the conservative, Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, said judges and business owners who object to civil unions would be forced “to violate their deeply held religious convictions,” if the bill passed.

Others who are against the bill were blunter in their opposition. Lisa Speer of Arapahoe County called the legislation “a canard.”

“This legislation is all heart and no head,” she said.

Republican committee member Steve King of Grand Junction — who, along with Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud voted against moving the bill forward — asked Steadman, “Wouldn’t it be better to amend the bill to accommodate the religious beliefs of these people?”

Steadman replied that he wouldn’t want to “enable businesses to put up signs outside their windows saying certain types of people aren’t welcome.” Steadman also brought up the point to some who testified that it wouldn’t matter if he amended the bill because they wouldn’t support it anyway.

In spite of vocal opposition, the legislation is expected to pass easily this session, something that Democratic Sen. Jessie Ulibarri of Commerce City — who chaired Wednesday’s committee — says he will take pride in. Ulibarri lives with his partner and two children, and has testified every time the bill has come up, only to walk away disappointed.

The day before the hearing, Ulibarri was asked what’s it’s like to go from testifying, to holding the gavel that chairs the same committee. He replied: “Overwhelming … in the best possible sense.”

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