State House sends same-sex domestic partner benefits bill to governor’s desk

The Colorado House gave final approval Tuesday to a bill that extends health insurance benefits to gay and lesbian domestic partners of state employees. The bill has already passed the state Senate and heads to Gov. Bill Ritter for his signature.

Under Senate Bill 88, partners of state employees who swear they’ve been in a committed relationship for at least a year would be eligible to share benefits with same-sex partners.

Opponents of the bill charge the measure extends special rights to same-sex couples and defies the will of state voters, who passed an amendment banning gay marriage and voted down a proposal establishing domestic partnerships in 2006. Supporters say it’s the right thing to do and that the benefits to the state far outweigh costs anticipated at roughly $150,000 in the first year.

“It’s about fairness,” said co-sponsor state Rep. Mark Ferrandino, a Denver Democrat and an openly gay member of the Legislature, before a House committee last month. “It’s about making sure we treat our employees equal no matter their sexual orientation.”

It’s the second bill approved by the Legislature this year expanding rights for same-sex couples in Colorado. Earlier this month, Ritter signed legislation that allows gay and lesbian couples and other unmarried adults to establish sweeping legal rights for each other, including inheritance, the ability to make medical decisions and hospital visitation rights. Both bills were sponsored by Ferrandino and state Sen. Jennifer Veiga, a Denver Democrat who announced earlier this month she is resigning her seat at the end of the legislative session to move to Australia with her partner.

During debate on the same-sex health benefits bill on the Senate floor, state Sen. Scott Renfroe provoked outrage when he compared homosexuality to murder and quoted Biblical verse saying gay men should be put to death. Religious leaders, gay-rights groups and even prominent conservatives chastised the Greeley Republican for his remarks.

The proposal also drew fire from the evangelical ministry Focus on the Family and its local spin-off, Colorado Family Action. The groups ran radio ads against the bill in February saying Colorado simply can’t afford to expand benefits to same-sex couples when the state budget faces massive cutbacks.

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