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Opinions on Civil Unions Changing In Colorado

A drawing by 4 year old Jeremy Simon, showing his parents Fran and Anna.
Nathan Heffel
A drawing by 4 year old Jeremy Simon, showing his parents Fran and Anna.

A bill that would legalize civil unions in Colorado faces a key test at the State House this week. While the measure has an uncertain future with lawmakers – a recent survey suggests a majority of Coloradans favor passage of a civil unions bill.

The bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, but reports say it could be heard by the same committee that defeated a similar measure by a single vote last year, and supporters are holding out hope the bill will get voted through.

Dustin Ingalls is Assistant Director of Public Policy Polling, a Democratic survey-research company based in North Carolina. He says 62% of Coloradans support the bill, and 23% oppose it. That’s a 30% support margin.

“For many people it’s a semantic thing. They don’t support marriage. A lot of people still see that as sort of a thing that should be exclusively for one man and one woman. But they don’t think that same sex couples should be barred from having the same sort of legal protections and rights that married heterosexual couples do.”

The bill will provide legal rights for end of life decisions, health insurance, inheritance, as well as hospital and visitation rights. The bill goes beyond what the state already offers in the way of rights for same sex couples.

No Longer Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Brad Clark is director of One Colorado – an LGBT advocacy group in Denver.

Based on his experience, public opinion about civil unions is changing, due in part because people are seeing and interacting with more and more openly gay people.

“We’re not just talking about a group of people that may live somewhere else…out of sight out of mind. Gay and lesbian Coloradans are part of the fabric of communities all around the state. When our friends and neighbors hurt, I think people see that connection to their own lives.”

A Wallet Full of Documents

It’s estimated that 16 thousand couples in Colorado could apply for a civil union if the measure is passed. A quarter of those have children - including Anna and Fran Simon of Denver.

The two have been in a committed relationship for nearly a decade. And while Fran says passage of the Civil Unions bill would have a life changing effect on her family, she’s more concerned right now about upcoming PTA meetings, And work.

“At the moment, it’s not necessarily affecting us, but it’s always in the back of our minds.  I mean I have my wallet here in my pocket. And I have to carry around things that say that Anna is my emergency contact. This directs you to all of our legal documents. In case we need them at any moment.  We carry around Jeremy’s birth certificate, because the validity of our family can be challenged at any time.”

The Civil Unions bill passed on a final voice vote in the Senate last week, and now moves into a house committee. Supporters are concerned, despite the increase in public support, the bill will once again be voted down in the judicial committee.

Anna hopes the three can one day be considered a typical Colorado family without the need for stacks of documentation. She wants their relationship to be finally recognized and protected under state law. 

“[Fran’s] not recognized as being a part of my family. Which is of course, completely absurd. We are like any other family in every other way. We’ve raised a child together, we have a household together. We share expenses like any other family; we take care of each other like every other family. And yet, we’re not recognized as legally a part of my family.”

Hedging Bets

One Colorado Director Brad Clark is hedging his bets that lawmakers will pass the legislation this time around. But when it comes to winning over the public – he feels recent polling on civil unions may not be telling the whole truth.

“I’m not an expert at polling…it’s no longer socially acceptable to be outwardly anti-gay. And so you also have some skewing in polling results.”

This week’s vote on civil unions could be historic. If it passes the house committee, Democrats say it will most likely be approved on the floor. And with Governor Hickenlooperpoised to sign the bill, Colorado could join states like Illinois, Hawaii and Delaware that have recently passed bills allowing civil unions. If not, the bill’s Democratic sponsor in the Senate has vowed to bring it back next year.

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