Summit County gay couples celebrate civil unions |

Summit County gay couples celebrate civil unions

Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, left, Rep. Tony Exum, D- Colorado Springs confer as the Civil Unions Bill is debated in the House Chamber at the Capitol on Monday, March 11, 2013. The proposal got initial approval with a voice vote in the Democratic-controlled House on Monday. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

Longtime Summit County locals Lori Miller and Stephanie Race have been together more than 20 years.

In May, the state of Colorado will, for the first time, recognize their relationship.

After a dramatic battle in last year’s Republican-controlled state House of Representatives, a bill granting same-sex couples the right to enter into civil unions sailed through the House this year on a 39-26 vote with some GOP support.

It is now headed to the desk of Gov. John Hickenlooper, a vocal supporter of civil unions.

“We’re very pleased,” said Miller, who said she and Race may enter into a civil union when the bill becomes a law. “It’s one step closer to equal rights for relationships and families. We appreciate Colorado being a progressive, forward-thinking state.”

Members of the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) community across Summit County were elated by the news of the bill’s approval Tuesday, but for some it was not enough.

Dillon Mayor Ron Holland, who has been with his partner Marshall Helgeson for 18 years, said without the promise of the full rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples, civil unions mean little.

“This is America and gay couples are entitled to the same rights and privileges as any taxpayer,” he said. “This is just a band aid. It’s not full equality.”

In 2006, Coloradans passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. With that law in place, lawmakers are unable to enact legislation allowing same-sex couples to legally marry.

Still, though civil unions might be seen as a first step, for some they are an important first step and one worth celebrating.

Without the legal recognition, Miller and Race never traveled without extensive documentation of their relationship for fear they might be prevented from seeing one another in the hospital in the event of an emergency. Both career firefighters, they knew they would get none of the benefits given to a heterosexual spouse if one of them were to die in the line of duty.

“For us, it’s not the piece of paper that says you’re married or have a civil union,” Miller told the Summit Daily in a previous interview. “It’s more about the civil rights.”

The civil unions bill was a hard-won victory for Democrats in Denver. A version of the same legislation died last year, when Republican leaders refused to call the bill up for discussion.

An election season followed and Democrats won back the state House and appointed a gay lawmaker, Mark Ferrandino, as speaker. The bill was passed Tuesday after gaining approval in the state Senate.

“We are fulfilling a promise that we made at the end of the last session to the people of Colorado that we would get things done,” Ferrandino said Tuesday.

But many Republicans protested the measure passed this year because it doesn’t offer exemptions for adoption agencies on the basis of religion.

“We wont get to debate this again here,” said Rep. Lori Saine (R-Dacono) but we will debate this in a court of law.”

Colorado is the 18th state to enact legislation providing benefits and obligations to same-sex couples. Nine states currently issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

The Denver Post contributed to the reporting of this story.

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