Colorado civil unions bill receives initial approval; Republicans voice religious concerns

Civil unions for gay couples likely on the horizon

DENVER - Proponents of Colorado’s Civil Unions bill hugged and shed tears after the State Senate gave preliminary approval to the bill, which would give same-sex couples access to basic legal protections.

Those protections would cover everything from emergency medical care and visitation to access to health, life and property insurance as a dependent.

“Well, third times a charm isn’t it?” said Sen. Pat Steadman, one of the bill’s main sponsors. “This bill is about life and it’s about death and it’s about everything in between.”

Steadman, who recently lost his long time partner to cancer, said Senate Bill 11 is personal for him.

“It’s one of the reasons I sought to serve,” he said.

The bill would allow same-sex couples to codify legal relationships at the county clerk’s office.

But opponents, like Senator Owen Hill, R-El Paso County, said it will lead to the worst form of government policy, “that which takes rights away from some in the process of granting them to others.”

Hill proposed an amendment to grant a religious conviction exemption, but it was voted down.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Larimer County, said he worries that SB 11 will require some churches to open themselves to same-sex ceremonies.

“That’s just unbelievable to me that we would run roughshod over people’s religious liberties to such an extent,” Lundberg said.

Steadman countered that his bill doesn’t reach into any church, mosque or synagogue.

He said some people use religion as an excuse to discriminate and cited a recent report of a baker declining to provide a cake to a same-sex couple as an example.

“Should the State of Colorado give effect to this type of discrimination?  Should religion trump laws of general applicability? I don’t think so,” Steadman said.

Showing the heightened emotion of the debate, Steadman said people who claim their religion requires them to discriminate should “get thee to a nunnery. Go live a monastic life away from modern society,” he said, “away from people you can’t see as equals to yourself, away from the stream of commerce where you may have to serve them, or employ them, or rent banquet halls to them.”

Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch raised a question about SB 11’s impact on adoption.

“What happens in the situation where the mother of the child specifically requests that the child be placed with a Christian heterosexual family?” Harvey asked.

Steadman replied, “Colorado law has always required adoption placements to be in the best interests of the child, not in the best interests of the agency.”  He said this bill doesn’t change that.

The bill’s other main sponsor, Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver was more subdued, saying the Civil Unions bill will bring about equality.

“This will make it possible for all those who have been on the outside of the law, who have been on the outside of justice, to be valid partners in the laws of the State of Colorado,” Guzman said. “And that’s justice.”

Republican Senator Ellen Roberts broke ranks with her colleagues in voting with the Democrats in favor of SB 11.

When asked how difficult that was, Roberts replied, “I’m sent here to vote for my district, and also my own conscience, so that’s who I was voting for.”

Sen. Lundberg said this is a contentious issue that voters should decide.

“It should go to a vote of the people if it goes anywhere,” he said. “The people rejected a similar measure in 2006.”

If the measure passes the Senate on third reading, it will then go to the house.

With both chambers controlled by democrats, there is a good chance that the Civil Unions bill will end up on Governor John Hickenlooper’s desk.

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