In a bipartisan vote of 6-3, the Colorado senate judiciary committee Monday approved a civil unions bill, more than 18 years after state voters passed an amendment banning antidiscrimination protections for gays and lesbians -- one that was overturned four years later by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case Romer v. Evans.
The bill now moves on to the state senate appropriations committee, where it will undergo further revision and debate before being voted on by the full senate.
The bill, introduced last month by gay Democratic senator Pat Steadman of Denver, offers many of the legal rights and responsibilities conferred by marriage, though civil unions as prescribed in the bill, SB-172, differ from marriage as required by Colorado's constitution, which voters amended in 2006 to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
The bill does provide numerous legal protections for gay and lesbian couples and their families, including inheritance and survivorship rights, medical decision-making, and clarifications on parental responsibility for children born within and outside of a civil union, including establishing step-parent adoption procedures as applicable to married couples. The bill also provides a legal framework for the orderly dissolution of civil unions, similar to the state language regulating divorce.
All five committee Democrats were joined by Republican senator Ellen Roberts of Durango in their support of the bill. In her closing statements, Collins commended the familial protections included in the bill and cited her experience working in family services, where she said she saw no difference in the love and commitment shown by gay and lesbian parents than that shown by heterosexual parents.
Steadman said of Monday's vote in favor of civil unions: "I'm elated. This is a very significant event for me personally, and for my constituents, and for the advancement of our laws in Colorado, to make sure that they work equally for everyone."
Supportive testimony for the state senate bill drew 27 witnesses representing a varied collection of citizens from across the state, including activists, business organizations, and religious clergy representatives.
Testimony in opposition to the bill saw 19 witnesses, including Rosina Kovar, whose testimony was the most provocative of the hearing. In addition to quoting Joseph Stalin, comparing "homosexual fornication and sodomy" to Big Tobacco, and describing the physical composition of the anus, Kovar claimed that this bill would lead to mandated sex education in elementary schools. "If you introduce sexual education to kids [between the ages of 5 and 12], they won't learn compassion," she said.
Republican senators Kevin Lundberg, Steve King, and Mark Scheffel voted against the bill. Of those voting no, Lundberg, the ranking Republican committee member, was the only legislator to speak. His commentary focused on the similarities between civil unions and marriage, arguing that SB-172 essentially creates a "carbon copy" of marriage.
"Make no mistake," Lundberg said in his closing comments, "this bill will change the institution of marriage for Colorado."
Judiciary Committee vice-chair and lesbian senator Lucia Guzman expressed her hope in the bill's success at Monday's hearing. "I'm cautiously optimistic," Guzman said. "I think the more we are able to speak to people on both sides, the more people might understand that this is a justice issue, that it's a legal issue."
For some LGBT Colorado residents, civil unions don't go far enough. Tom Carllon and Gabe Martinez, a gay couple who were married in California prior to Proposition 8, testified in opposition to the bill, arguing that civil unions only serve to confuse voters about the rights actually offered to LGBT couples. Marriage equality is the ultimate goal, Carllon stated, and anything less is "just the crumbs, not the cake."
"Civil unions will be an excuse not to upgrade us to marriage," Carllon testified. "The public will forever equate civil unions as marriage, or, less hopefully, just 'good enough' as marriage."
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