Colo. civil unions bill clears Sen., goes to House |

Colo. civil unions bill clears Sen., goes to House

Fran Simon, right, and her partner Anna Simon join a standing-room-only crowd gathered inside the capitol building in Denver to listen to testimony on Senate Bill 172 before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, March 7, 2011. The Colorado proposal to allow civil unions for same-sex couples got its first approval Monday, triggering applause and cheers from dozens of people who waited nearly four hours for the vote. The 6-3 Senate committee vote means the bill is one step close to reaching the House, where even Democrats who back the bill concede it faces long odds. (AP Photo/ The Denver Post, Kathryn Scott Osler)
AP | The Denver Post

DENVER (AP) – A proposal granting same-sex couples rights similar to marriage cleared the Colorado Senate Thursday, following poignant debate from conservatives on a measure most Republicans opposed but had little power to stop in a Democratic-controlled chamber.

Three Republicans, all women, joined all 20 Democratic senators in passing the civil unions bill to the House, where the GOP has a one-vote edge. The final vote came during a second round of emotional debate, and more Republicans went to the lectern to speak about the bill than they did Wednesday when only one party member voiced opposition.

Republicans who opposed the bill said it would undermine marriage and go against the wishes of voters who rejected a domestic partnerships referendum in 2006 and also banned gay marriage the same year.

“Many times we tragically fail in speaking truths with gentleness, with grace and with respect. I’m opposed to the civil unions bill for many reasons,” said Sen. Scott Renfroe, a Republican from Weld County. “I’m a follower of Jesus. And I believe following Jesus is the way through which we can run the race and finish strong. Marriage is the fundamental institution that holds our society together and my Christian beliefs.”

Senate Bill 172 would grant same-sex couples several rights similar to married couples, including the ability to be involved in their partner’s medical decisions. The bill also would enhance inheritance rights and make it easier for couples to list each other as dependents on health insurance. And it would hold both gay parents responsible for child support when they are raising a child together.

Seven states have passed civil union legislation or similar legal recognitions for gay couples. Hawaii and Illinois were the most recent to pass civil union laws.

Republican Sen. Bill Cadman, of El Paso County, quoted a document from the Catholic Church calling the civil unions label “a diversion” and said people should decide the matter with a ballot proposal if they want.

“If you want to redefine marriage, you need to ask the people of Colorado to do that,” he said.

Sen. Morgan Carroll, a Democrat from Aurora, said providing equal rights to everyone will not take away from others.

“Giving equal rights is not a zero-sum game,” she said. “No one loses. Your marriage is your marriage. Your marriage will not be, and no one’s marriage will be any weaker the day after this bill passes. Who you love will not be any different. Who you worship, how you think about life, the rights you enjoy, by adding equality to all of our residents – no one loses.”

Twelve Republicans voted against the Colorado bill. One of the Republicans who voted for it, Sen. Jean White, from Hayden, was moved by Wednesday’s testimony from Democratic supporters of the bill, including the stories from Denver Sen. Pat Steadman, a gay lawmaker who sponsored the proposal.

“It occurred to me that if I did not come to the mic in support of this bill today, that I would be voting quietly for it but not having the courage to stand up for what is right,” White said, noting that she has a niece and nephew who are gay.

“My vote today is for love and respect and commitment. My vote today is for my niece and my nephew,” she said.

Democrats in the House said they have enough votes to pass the bill if it gets to the floor but worry that it will get assigned to an unfavorable committee.

Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty again avoided taking a position on the civil unions question Thursday. He said he hasn’t decided which House committee will consider the bill, a decision that could determine whether the matter passes on to the full House or dies.

“As we’ve said before, it will receive a fair hearing, as we hope all bills receive a fair hearing,” he said.

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