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Civil Unions Bill Passes First Committee

Bente Birkeland

After a battering at the center of a political storm last year, the Civil Unions bill cleared its first hurdle in committee Wednesday.

  It’s the third year in a row that Democrats have brought forward a measure to allow civil unions. Unlike previous attempts, this one is expected to sail through the legislature now that Democrats control both chambers.

“For people who are fortunate enough to have found someone that they want to spend their life with, we should respect that love and honor it,” says Democratic Senator Pat Steadman of Denver. “Why would the state create inconvenience, unfairness and discrimination?”

For Steadman it’s also personal. He’s one of 8 openly gay state lawmakers and lost his longtime partner to pancreatic cancer over the summer. Much of the testimony before the Senate judiciary committee Wednesday centered on the personal, family, and emotions.

“I’m Jeremy Benjamin Simon and I’m 5 years old and these are my two moms.” Simon’s parents have testified every time the bill has come before lawmakers.

One of his mothers, Fran Simon, says civil unions would mean a lot for her family. “Jeremy should have the security of knowing his parent’s relationship is protected by Colorado legal laws just like any other families.”

Another witness, Brian Bowles talked about the moment he proposed to his partner. “I proposed on Christmas Day. I made an angle box and put the ring in the hand of an angel and said this is my gift to you,” said Bowles.

“He accepted 17 years ago. We have an incredible family. I want to honor that, this is a human issue. All we have is love, that’s what this is about is love.”

Opponents acknowledge that the bill’s passage is inevitable, but Republican Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud says that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. “As I look at it I see a carbon copy of marriage in Colorado law. I’m not seeing such a big distinction.”

Lundberg believes civil unions will harm the traditional family unit and lead to gay marriage. “Can you site one difference in Colorado law that this will establish between this and marriage except for the name?”

The state already has some benefits in place for same sex couples. They can adopt each other’s children, and enter into a designated beneficiary agreement to iron out inheritance. Civil unions would touch on even more rights, from hospital and prison visitation, to life insurance, family leave benefits, retirement and other laws.

Supporters acknowledge that civil unions are legally similar to marriage. Brad Clarke who heads the GLBT advocacy group One Colorado says it’s still not the same.

“Civil unions aren’t marriage. Words do have value, and the value in that word and recognizing the dignity in that relationship that a civil union does not.”

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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