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The Colorado state senate appropriations committee Friday approved a civil unions bill by a party-line vote of 6-4.
SB-172, sponsored by gay Democratic senator Pat Steadman of Denver, now moves to the full senate, where it is expected to pass. All 20 Democratic senators -- a majority of the chamber's 35 senators -- have signed on as bill cosponsors.
The bill will then face the house, which has a one-seat Republican majority, making the bill's fate there uncertain.
If it passes the senate, Rep. Mark Ferrandino of Denver will introduce the bill in the house. "There is bipartisan support for civil unions in the House, and I am hopeful that we can pass this important legislation," Ferrandino said in an e-mail to The Advocate. "If the bill can get to the floor of the house, I am confident it will pass the house and be sent to the governor's desk."
Upon introduction, speaker of the house Frank McNulty, a Republican from south Denver suburb Highlands Ranch, will assign the bill to a committee, which will likely determine its fate. McNulty has publicly promised that the bill will get a fair hearing, but some observers fear the bill will be sent to a "kill-committee" and fail to reach the house floor.
If passed, SB-172 would offer many of the same legal rights and protections enjoyed by heterosexual married couples, including inheritance, medical decision-making, adoption, and dissolution rights. As written, the bill would allow civil unions between any two unmarried adults, regardless of gender.
It was this stipulation that dominated appropriations committee member and Republican state senator Kent Lambert's questions to Steadman, the committee chair, during the brief, early-morning hearing. Lambert referenced France, where civil unions have become increasingly popular for French citizens as marriage rates have declined in the country.
Steadman explained the differences between French civil unions, which are legally identical to marriage, and his proposed bill in Colorado.
"In countries such as France where [civil unions are] an option, there is, as I understand, perfect equivalency between a civil union and marriage, and so there' s no disincentive for people to choose one over the other," Steadman explained. "Whereas that's not the case with SB-172. This is nowhere near equal to marriage. It's not the same, and so the number of opposite-sex couples electing this option, I don't think, is going to be anywhere near what they've seen in France or some other countries where the two options are equivalent. This is a lesser benefit package, and so I think fewer opposite-sex couples are going to go down that path."
Steadman also addressed concerns raised by Republican senator Keith King about the potential fiscal impact of changes to insurance policies to include same-sex civil union partners. Steadman explained that SB-172 specifically delays the implementation of marriage-like tax and insurance benefits for couples until January and establishes research committees to investigate and report on how to incorporate same-sex partners into benefit packages in a way that is not only fair but is also constitutional under Colorado's Amendment 43, which bars the state from recognizing as marriage any union besides that of one man and one woman.
Appropriations committee members voted along party lines to pass the bill to the senate floor, where it could be heard as early as next week.