Summit gays mourn death of civil unions bill
Ryan Summerlin May 16, 2012
On vacation in South Carolina this week, Red, White and Blue Fire District chief Lori Miller and her partner, Stephanie Race, had to be prepared.
Even after more than 20 years together, the couple can’t travel without documentation of their relationship. Miller says she carries medical power of attorney with her wherever she goes, concerned that if something were to happen to Race she wouldn’t be allowed to see her in the hospital without it.
But if Miller were to die in the line of duty, even legal documentation wouldn’t be enough. Race would receive none of the benefits given to a heterosexual spouse.
“For us, it’s not the piece of paper that says you’re married or have a civil union,” Miller said. “It’s more about the equal rights.”
Gay leaders in Summit County, like thousands of members of the GLBT community statewide, were disappointed this week when a bill that would have allowed same-sex couples to enter into civil unions died in a state House committee Monday.
“It’s sad,” said Summit County Commissioner Thomas Davidson, who is gay. “It’s not just those rights that same-sex partners are denied, it’s not just the practical matters. It’s very important for people that are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual to have society recognize that you’re a person too, and your relationship is as meaningful as somebody else’s.”
The civil unions bill, which would have afforded same-sex partners many of the same rights given married couples, died on a 5-4 party line vote in the House Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, on the first day of a special session of the state Legislature.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper called the special session last week, when it appeared the civil unions and several other bills would die without coming to a final vote when the legislative session ended.
Miller, while disappointed with the final outcome, said she was glad to see the state and national discussions inspired by the bill.
“It’s just one more step,” Miller said. “People are talking about it again. It’s more comfortable now than it’s ever been.”
Many in Summit County have been comfortable with the issue for some time.
A 2006 amendment to the Colorado Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman passed statewide, but Summit County voters opposed the measure by a 62 percent majority.
“I have sometimes made this joke, the bumper sticker we see that says, ‘Nobody cares that you tele,’ well, nobody cares that you’re gay,” Davidson said. “We’re beyond that in this community. … It’s one of the things that makes me proud to be an elected official in Summit County.”
Summit County’s lawmakers in Denver have reflected that attitude this year. Sen. Jeanne Nicholson (D – Blackhawk) supported the civil unions bill when it passed through the Senate. Rep. Millie Hamner (D – Dillon) said she was in favor of the measure as well.
But if the bill is reintroduced next year, support from Summit County’s corner is less certain.
David Justice, a Gunnison Republican running for Hamner’s House District 61 seat said he would vote no on the bill today, but would have to look into the matter further before deciding how he might vote next year if elected.
GOP challenger Debra Irvine, of Breckenridge, did not return calls for comment.
Davidson said he feels confident civil unions will become legal in Colorado in the foreseeable future.