DENVER - A proposal granting gay couples rights similar to married couples got initial approval from Colorado Democratic senators after hours of testimony that was at times emotional.
A Senate committee voted 3-2 to advance the bill, with Republicans opposing.
There was a small round of applause from the audience after the vote.
The vote came after lawmakers heard hours of testimony from gay couples and supporters of traditional marriage on the civil unions legislation. It's the first of several votes before the bill could become law.
It was standing-room only in the hearing room.
"We have (the support). We're going to pass it and it'll be done,” said Sen. Lucia Guzman, Democrat and openly gay senator from Denver. "I am hoping this will offer young families protections that I didn't have."
Despite its initial passage by the judiciary committee, the bill has a vocal group of critics.
Religious leaders fear faith-based adoption agencies will be forced to place children in same-sex homes -- violating their religious convictions. Some faith-based organizations fear passage of the civil union bill will ultimately put them out of business.
"The birth parents who place with us seek to place in a family setting with a mother and a father. And birth parents do have a say," said Mark Rohlena, president of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado.
Religious leaders want to add what's being called a "conscience clause." It would allow organizations to selectively opt out if a particular policy is against their beliefs.
"For us to go down this road is to not strengthen the concept and the practice of families, it's to do the exact opposite. And it will ultimately yield a weaker culture, a weaker society," said Senator Kevin Lundberg (R) Berthoud.
The attempt to add an amendment Wednesday night failed -- and may fail in the future, as the Democrats are in control.
"Offering amendments to the bill that say well in certain circumstances you can discriminate and refuse to serve people that goes complete against the grain of what we're trying to accomplish here," said the bill’s co-sponsor, Senator Pat Steadman, (D) Denver.
If Senate Bill 11 is passed into law, two people, regardless of gender, will be able to enter into a civil union. The legislation will grant them the following legal protections:
- Responsibility to financially support one another
- Property rights
- Protections against discrimination based upon spousal status
- Rights within the probate laws
- The ability to adopt a partner’s child
- Protections under domestic violence laws
- Legal rights relating to medical care and treatment and hospital visitation
- Eligibility for family leave benefits
- and other rights and responsibilities.
Democrats tried unsuccessfully the last two years to pass civil unions. House Republicans have previously defeated the measure, but Democrats now control the Legislature and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to sign the bill.