Ritter says he expects to sign bill granting benefits to same-sex partners

Gov. Bill Ritter said he will probably sign a bill passed Tuesday that extends health insurance benefits to gay and lesbian domestic partners of state employees.

“I expect to sign that but I haven’t heard from the opposition on that,” Ritter, a Democrat, told The Denver Post’s Tim Hoover. “If there’s a request to do that, I’ll certainly let them do that.”

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 health-care benefits with same-sex partners.

Opponents say the bill extends rights to unmarried same-sex couples that aren’t available to unmarried straight couples. The bill’s supporters counter that opposite-sex couples can get married if they want the benefits, but gay couples can’t. Colorado voters passed an amendment to the state constitution in 2006 that forbids same-sex couples from marrying.

The bill’s opponents also argue the proposal defies the will of voters, who defeated a measure to establish domestic partnerships the same year as the definition-of-marriage amendment passed. Supporters say it’s the right thing to do and that it’s good for the state to expand health-insurance coverage. Adding the benefits will cost roughly $150,000 in the first year, an analysis by legislative staff concluded.

Ritter signed legislation last month 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. That law, like the same-sex benefits bill, was sponsored by Rep. Mark Ferrandino and Sen. Jennifer Veiga, both Denver Democrats and both openly gay members of the Legislature.

At least 22 cities and four counties in Colorado offer health benefits to same-sex partners of employees, according to data compiled by the Colorado Independent.

Cities offering insurance coverage to same-sex partners of employees: Arvada, Aspen, Boulder, Breckenridge, Brighton, Brush, Central City, Commerce City, Denver, Durango, Englewood, Frisco, Glendale, Golden, Gunnison, Lafayette, Lakewood, Littleton, Northglenn, Wheat Ridge, Windsor, and Aurora, which added the benefit in February. Counties offering the benefit include Boulder County, Logan County, Pitkin County and Summit County. The Regional Transportation District also offers the coverage.

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