A bill that would create civil unions in Colorado passed a Senate committee where the legislation died along a party-line vote when it was first introduced in 2011.
After nearly five hours of public testimony before a standing-room-only crowd, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3-2, along party lines, in favor of Senate Bill 11. The legislation now heads to the Democrat-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee.
Several committee members made impassioned arguments, including the sitting chairman, Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, a newly elected Democrat from Denver suburb Adams County, who is also a partnered gay father to two children.
Noting that in prior years, Ulibarri testified as a member of the public in favor of the legislation, Senator Ulibarri said today's vote was meaningful on a personal level as well as a political one.
"It was a surreal experience to be able to cast a 'yes' vote and then adjourn the committee and then run up and hug my partner," said Ulibarri. "And to know that in the very near future, our family will be OK and be protected under the law. And I feel like I might sleep a little bit better tonight, and especially once the bill passes, finally, and is signed by the governor."
The bill was once again sponsored by gay Denver Democratic senators Pat Steadman and Lucia Guzman, the latter of whom closed her testimony by reading a letter from a constituent in another district who wrote the senator to say that her "lifestyle" was "disgusting," "despicable," and something of which she should be "embarrassed."
"I have no resentment for this man in Loveland, Colo.," said Guzman at the hearing. "I disagree with my friend in Loveland. I am not embarrassed to be who I am. I am more proud about what I do as a legislator."
The bill's other sponsor, Steadman, has introduced civil unions legislation every session for the past three years. Last year the legislation passed the Senate and a Republican-controlled House committee before House Republicans shut down the legislature in a dramatic refusal to allow the issue to come to a full floor vote.
While Steadman is a legal scholar who's well-versed in the intricacies of state law, he told the committee that this year, his motivation was more holistic and perhaps personal. Steadman's longtime partner, Dave Misner, lost his short battle with pancreatic cancer last year.
"For me, this year, this feels more about love than about legal technicalities," Steadman said in his closing statements. "When two people are lucky enough to have each other and want to spend their lives together, let not our laws stand between them."
"Gay and lesbian couples share similar worries as everyone else, like making ends meet, losing their job, or being denied health insurance," added Brad Clark, executive director of One Colorado, the lead organization advocating for passage of the bill. "Civil unions are an important part of building the security we all long for."
Photo by Evan Semon for Out Front Colorado.