"Civil unions’ bill essentially killed | SummitDaily.com

"Civil unions’ bill essentially killed

SUMMIT COUNTY – Frank Accosta is disappointed – but not surprised – that the state Legislature’s Committee on Information and Technology indefinitely postponed House Bill 1141 Wednesday afternoon.

The bill, proposed by Rep. Tom Plant, a Democrat from Nederland, would establish civil unions for gay and lesbians so they could have the same benefits as married couples.

“We kind of knew that, given the makeup of the Senate and House, it might not go anywhere anyway,” said Accosta, president of the Summit County chapter of Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). “By postponing it, they have not addressed the civil liberty issues. They think if they keep postponing it, it will go away. It won’t. It’s not a matter of marriage or mocking an institution; it’s a matter of civil justice.”

Democrat Carl Miller of Leadville, who represents Summit County in the state House, was not disappointed with the postponement.

“I do not support single sex marriage, and that’s what this bill was, regardless of what the title says – “Civil Union,'” he said.

Miller didn’t think there was any chance the committee would reverse its decision to postpone the bill and said it likely has little chance in the Senate as well.

“You would have to get someone to get it a late-bill status (in the Senate),” Miller said, and he doubts that would happen.

Plant introduced the bill Tuesday, saying there are 184 pages listing benefits gays and lesbians can’t enjoy because the law doesn’t recognize same-sex couples like it does heterosexual couples. The committee initially killed the bill on an 8-3 vote, but later approved a motion to postpone it instead.

“There’s a lot of things gays and lesbians can’t do every day, even though we’re leading perfectly normal lives,” Accosta said. “We go home to our partners every day, we take care of children every day. … But if our partner dies, we don’t get any Social Security benefits, there is no legal protection for the children, no tax benefits – it’s an exhaustive list.”

Summit County government and Vail Resorts offer same-sex benefits to their employees.

County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom, who supported same-sex benefits for county employees for years before the county implemented them just over a year ago, said postponing the bill essentially kills it.

“Tom Plant said he introduced it to get a foot in the door, to make people more aware of the issues,” Lindstrom said. “I think it deserves some discussion. But it doesn’t surprise me in our current political climate.”

Despite steps the county has taken to accommodate its gay and lesbian employees, homosexual couples must prove they are in a committed relationship, have a vested monetary interest in a household and share joint bank accounts, among other things. Heterosexual couples can get married after taking a blood test and filling out an application at the courthouse, Accosta said.

“That just screams discrimination,” he said. “What we want is the same protection. What we want is the same rights as you. We pay taxes just like you, we can get called up to war just like you, we serve on jury duty same as you. Just because I choose to sleep with someone of the same sex, I don’t have other rights. It’s very discriminatory.”

The issue is far from dead, Accosta said.

“Nobody wants to take on the parties that oppose this – particularly certain religious institutions,” he said.

The local chapter of PFLAG intends to keep the issue in the public eye, notably on National Freedom to Marry Day on Feb. 12, linking Abraham Lincoln’s birthday with Valentine’s Day to link the themes of equality and love.

The day was set aside to call attention to the issue nationally.

“National Freedom to Marry Day is not to minimize or take lightly the institution of marriage,” Accosta said. “Marriage is a powerful legal and social institution that protects and supports intimate family relationships by providing a unique set of rights, privileges and benefits. Same-sex couples want the right to marry for the same reason different-sex couples do, including unquestionable access to these rights and protections.”

“It’s just a matter of time,” Lindstrom said. ” I think it’s important. It’s a human rights issue, a question of equality. They should have the same rights as everyone else.”


Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.

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