Fri May 4, 2012

Civil Unions Bill Passes Another Legislative Hurdle

A measure to allow civil unions in Colorado has cleared the Republican controlled house judiciary committee. Many in the audience say they were shocked when the same committee that defeated the bill last year moved it forward.

Representative BJ Nikkel (R-Loveland) bucked her party’s leadership becoming the swing vote needed to keep the bill alive. Nikkel is not seeking re-election -- but says that didn’t impact her vote.

“I looked out at the crowd and thought these people are Coloradans and they deserve the same rights as the rest of us. It just seemed like the right thing to do.”

Dozens of couples gave passionate arguments about how a civil union would improve their lives. Anna Simon and her partner have a 4 year-old son named Jeremy. She says a civil union would make their family more stable and give them peace of mind.

“People understand what a civil union is. She is the one I want by my bedside; she’s the one I want in the hospital.”

Senate bill 2 would give same sex couples many of the same legal protections as married couples. It would touch on everything from inheritance and property rights, hospital and prison visitation, family leave, adoption, domestic violence laws and financial support.

House minority leader Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver) is the main sponsor of the bill. He’s also one of four openly gay lawmakers.

“It’s more about recognition of the relationship and responsibility.”

Ferrandino acknowledges that Civil Unions is not yet a done deal. It still has two more committees to pass before it could reach the full house floor for an up or down vote.

“I’m always hopeful. We have all the Democrats and at least one Republican. I think if the leadership doesn’t play games with this bill we have a good shot.”

But many conservatives worry the bill would be a stepping-stone to legalizing gay marriage. Byron Babione is with the Christian non-profit, the Alliance Defense Fund. He testified that the measure is too similar to marriage. He also notes that Colorado voters struck down a similar measure at the ballot and voted to preserve marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

“There’s very little distinction there at all. It’s basically marriage without the name. And I think they meant to protect the institution against look alikes and parallel institutions.”

Representative Brian DelGrosso (R-Loveland) says he thinks the state already has adequate benefits in place. Gay couples can already adopt each other’s children, and enter into a designated beneficiary agreement to iron out inheritance and other rights.  

“Why not take what we currently have in law, and just make that better? And find a couple of other loopholes Why bring a whole new piece of legislation, a lot of which would be duplicative?”

But the debate this year shows a greater division among the GOP on the issue of gay rights. Mario Nicolai is with Coloradans for Freedom. He urged his fellow Republicans to pass the measure.

“This deserves to be heard before the full house. This is an incredibly important issue. We’re talking about civil rights that deserves a full debate on the full floor. Every representative should have an opportunity to vote.”

And the final decision will come town to the wire. With less than a week left in the legislative session the measure still needs to pass the house finance committee and then the appropriations committee, before heading to the floor. If it makes it through that process, Governor Hickenlooper has said he'll sign the legislation.

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