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Civil union bill debated in Montana

Civil union bill debated in Montana

A legally recognized union of two gays or lesbians would be a compromise that gets the state of Montana closer to providing justice for all, proponents of a civil union bill told the house judiciary committee on Monday. Opponents said the bill is a backdoor attempt to legalize gay marriage. House Bill 259, sponsored by Christine Kaufmann (D-Helena), would allow "civil unions" and extend to people in them the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities afforded spouses in a marriage. Some of those benefits are group insurance, power of attorney in health care issues, and public assistance benefits under state law. Witnesses packed the hearing room, some wearing signs reading, "Someone you know and love is gay." The bill is needed in this time of cultural war over gay marriage, Kaufmann said. It provides a compromise that acknowledges opponents' concerns about protecting the sanctity of marriage, while providing a legal set of rights to couples who otherwise must spend money and time with attorneys trying to establish those rights piece by piece, she said. "I think people are sadly misinformed about the lives of gay and lesbian people, and I know because they're talking about me," Kaufmann told the house judiciary committee. "This bill allows some measure of fairness to some of your constituents." Many speaking in favor of the bill said it was appropriate to discuss the bill on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, because the bill could provide equal rights to a group targeted by hatred and homophobia. "We wouldn't think today of denying civil rights to blacks and other people of color," said Terry Kendrick with the Montana Human Rights Network. "You are at one of those critical times in history. You have an opportunity to cast a historic vote for justice." Many proponents described the difficulties they've faced in trying to prove the legitimacy of their relationships for such things as access to visit partners in hospitals. "The people of Montana are not served when I need extra paperwork to sit by her hospital bed," said Linda Gryczan. The bill presents lawmakers with an opportunity to extend basic human rights to gays and lesbians, said Brad Martin, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party. Opponents said the bill simply replaces the word "marriage" with the phrase "civil unions" and ignores the will of the people. Montanans in November passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Allowing gay marriage disregards the purpose of marriage, said Dallas Erickson of Montana Citizens for Decency Through Law. "Loving, committed relationships alone are of no interest to government," he said, but society benefits from marriages producing children. Opponents invoked "the word of God," with some claiming that homosexuality goes against the will of God and describing marriage as a holy institution. "Homosexuality is an abomination to God," said Merry Nelson.

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