Civil union bill takes 1st step to law

Though bill’s passage a given, opponents continue to speak out

Sens. Pat Steadman, left, D-Denver, and Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, present their civil-unions bill Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee at the state Capitol in Denver. Enlargephoto

Ed Andrieski/Associated Press

Sens. Pat Steadman, left, D-Denver, and Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, present their civil-unions bill Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee at the state Capitol in Denver.

DENVER – Legislators have known for weeks what the outcome of Wednesday’s hearing on civil unions for same-sex couples would be – 3 to 2, in favor of the bill.

And they know it will pass the Senate in the coming days, and then the House. Every Democrat – 20 in the Senate and 37 in the House – is a co-sponsor, guaranteeing it enough votes to become law.

So Wednesday’s hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee was more like the first steps of a victory lap for the bill, which suffered a dramatic, midnight defeat in the Republican-controlled House last year.

“The key issue here for Senate Bill 11 is recognizing the love between committed couples,” said the sponsor, Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. “When two people are lucky enough to have found someone they want to spend the rest of their lives with, why should the state of Colorado stand in the way?”

His bill would grant rights and responsibilities nearly identical to marriage under state law, including inheritance rights, insurance rights, and child and spousal support requirements for couples who split up. But it does not allow federal marriage rights, such as joint tax returns and Social Security benefits.

The preordained outcome didn’t stop opponents from taking a stand against the bill on religious grounds.

The most heated debate revolved around the rights of people to refuse service to gays and lesbians because of religious objections. For example, Catholic Charities does not condone gay adoption, and a Lakewood bakery owner found himself the target of protests last summer when he refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

Last year’s version of the bill included an exemption for adoption agencies that objected to same-sex parenting on religious grounds. Sponsors were trying to get Republican support to pass the GOP-controlled House.

But House leaders would not bring it up for a vote, and this year Steadman has deleted the compromise for religious adoption agencies.

“I was persuaded that this Legislature should not be in the business of discrimination,” he said.

But several witnesses said the bill will violate their First Amendment rights.

Rosina Kovar of Denver called it a bullying bill and referred to the Legislature’s previous passage of an anti-bullying law, which she also opposed.

“We said right away it was a homosexual bill to shut up Christians, and I think this is the same thing,” Kovar said.

Other opponents included a street preacher who said the Old Testament called on people to “stone the homosexuals.”

Father Bill Carmody, speaking for the Colorado Catholic Conference, said civil unions will undermine marriage because they also would be open to heterosexual couples.

“People will choose civil unions over marriage,” Carmody said. “The fundamental structure of society is marriage. Senate Bill 11 gives couples an out.”

But two prominent Republican lawyers – Mario Nicolais and Alex Hornaday – urged their fellow party members to vote for the bill.

Hornaday, vice president of the Colorado Log Cabin Republicans – a gay group – said opposition to civil unions has not helped Republicans at the ballot box, except for a couple of intraparty primaries.

He blamed the GOP’s loss of the Colorado House and Mitt Romney’s loss in Colorado on energy and money Democratic campaigns gained when the House killed the civil-unions bill in 2012.

“We risk looking at our 2012 electoral embarrassment as the good old days,” Hornaday said.

The bill now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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