Senate gives blessing to civil unions; House prospects dimmer

March 23, 2011
photo - Rep. Mark Ferrandino and Sen. Pat Steadman are sponsors of the civil-unions bill. Both are Denver Democrats. Photo by LYNN BARTELS, THE DENVER POST
Rep. Mark Ferrandino and Sen. Pat Steadman are sponsors of the civil-unions bill. Both are Denver Democrats. Photo by LYNN BARTELS, THE DENVER POST 

DENVER - A bill to allow civil unions for same-sex couples was passed Wednesday by Senate Democrats, all 20 of whom were co-sponsors of the bill.

Civil unions would grant a host of legal rights to same-sex couples that are automatically granted to married couples, such as medical power of attorney and greater adoption access.

Sen. Pat Steadman’s voice quavered as he spoke about the bill and told stories of friends and family who had been denied rights because of their sexual orientation. Steadman, a Denver Democrat, is gay.

“Life happens. Bad things happen to good people. People have accidents,” he said. “At these points in our life, a legally recognized relationship is what ensures that the people who care most, that the person in question who most wants to be with them, is the one that can make the decisions.”

“The time has come” to create civil unions in Colorado, Steadman said. “This is really common-sense legislation.”

Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg, of Berthoud, railed against the measure and said it was gay marriage by another name.

“This is a dramatic, radical change to marriage in Colorado,” said Lundberg.

He also said that Colorado voters had already weighed in on the issue of civil unions and gay marriage. In 2006, Colorado voters approved a constitutional change that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, and rejected a proposal to create domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.

Republican senators from El Paso County all echoed Lundberg, and said Coloradans have already decided the issue.

“This is a very nationwide effort by some people to redefine what marriage is, and it’s obviously trying to push towards same-sex marriage, which, despite some of the arguments, is not favored by most Coloradans,” said Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs. “(Democrats are) violating the rule of law by going around the constitution.”

Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, commented, “This is a significant change, and the people have said no to this. And obviously their will was ignored today.”

But the vote in 2006 is irrelevant, said Democratic Senate Majority Leader John Morse, of Colorado Springs. He said the point is that government should not be regulating relationships, and that to suggest that the 2006 vote should stand forever as law is “patently ridiculous.”

“Equal protection under the law means equal protection under the law, for all of us. I don’t think the government should have a say in who you marry and who you don’t marry,” said Morse. “The voters spoke in 1789, and they spoke again in 1912. So what? It was five years ago. This world changes every year. Today is very different than three months ago.”

The bill must pass one last vote Thursday before heading to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Many observers have predicted the bill will die in a Republican committee before making it the floor of the House. Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, is the bill’s House sponsor, and has said that he has the votes to pass the measure if it does reach the floor. Ferrandino is also gay.

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