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A bill that would allow civil unions for gay couples in Colorado will not hurt traditional marriages, the sponsor of the measure said Thursday after introducing the proposal. Rep. Tom Plant (D-Nederland) said his bill, House Bill 1085, applies only to people prohibited from being married. The bill would authorize county clerks to issue licenses for civil unions to eligible same-sex couples. It would give them most of the state-level benefits, protections, and responsibilities granted to married couples, including survivor benefits, coverage under health plans, the right to transfer property, and the right to refuse to testify against one's partner. Plant said there is no reason to discriminate against same-sex couples: "There is no evidence to suggest that allowing rights for same-sex couples will diminish the rights of traditional marriages. They deserve the same opportunities and responsibilities granted to other people." But Rep. Shawn Mitchell (R-Broomfield), chairman of the house committee that will hear the bill, said the measure would hurt traditional marriages. The committee has killed previous attempts to pass similar measures. "I think the most important thing we can do for the welfare of children and society is to strengthen the family unit and our support for traditional families,'' Mitchell said. Mitchell said the proposal would dilute marriage because couples in civil unions would not be held to the same requirements as married couples in areas such as child care. He said it also would violate equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Mitchell said European countries that have approved similar measures now have what he called ''marriage lite.'' The Reverend Phil Campbell, who organized a coalition of 90 Colorado clergy to support rights for same-sex couples, said the measure is only the first step in the battle to ensure that the approximately 10,000 same-sex couples in Colorado get the rights they deserve. "It's important to extend these rights and responsibilities to everyone," he said. He said the next step is to get federal legislation to ensure that same-sex couples can collect survivor benefits and get tax benefits that all married couples are guaranteed.