Hemmed in by state anti-gay marriage law, Steadman to introduce civil unions bill

Denver Democratic state Senator Pat Steadman is sponsoring a bill that would make same-sex civil unions legal in Colorado. The move is being cheered as long overdue by gay rights supporters, who have been stymied in efforts to win equality by a constitutional amendment that outlaws gay marriage in the state. In weighing whether or not to introduce the legislation this summer, Steadman told the Colorado Independent that “promoting a lesser status for gay people is not ideal” but that, in the short term, “people could really benefit from civil unions.”

Steadman’s bill, which will be sponsored by Denver Rep. Mark Ferrandino in the House, will confer on couples entering into a civil union all of the legal rights granted through marriage– rights that include, for example, inheriting property, sharing health insurance policies, making crucial end-of-life medical and financial decisions.

These aren’t just protections couples share with one another, they’re also family responsibilities, Brad Clark, head of gay rights group OneColorado, told the Colorado Independent. “There are literally hundreds or even thousands of instances of rights shared by couples littered throughout the state code.”

Republican Sen. Shawn Mitchell told 9News that the question of civil unions is a fraught social issue and that this session lawmakers should focus on boosting the recession-wracked economy.

Clark said that in the difficult financial times we’re presently living through, the right to civil union represents the most basic kind of economic matter.

“These days, it’s more important than ever that families have the protections they need. Gay families are just like every other kind of family, they’re focusing on putting food on the table.”

Clark said lawmakers worried about the economy should be seeking not to undermine those efforts but to support them.

In a release, OneColorado reported that the Strong Families Coalition supporting Steadman’s bill is made up of 66 organizations representing more than half a million Coloradans.

OneColorado has been surveying residents of the state for roughly a year on gay rights and larger equality issues, and Clark said that the campaign around Steadman’s bill will be focused on demonstrating grassroots support. He said views in Colorado on the ground seem to have changed a great deal since anti-gay marriage Amendment 43 passed in 2006. He said support for civil unions comes not just from liberal Denver and Boulder but from communities all across the state.

“We’ll be doing email campaigns to lawmakers and phone banking but also showing up at local town halls and community meetings,” Clark said. He added that a Coalition “lobby day” scheduled for February 21st will bring gay families to the capitol to speak to lawmakers about the everyday ways the bill could make a difference in their lives.

On Sunday, the Coalition launched its campaign with an event held at the First Unitarian Society of Denver. Speakers included leaders of businesses, faith communities, civil rights groups, as well as gay couples and parents of gay children.

First Unitarian Rev. Mike Morran said he supported civil unions as a matter of religious freedom.

“Pastors, priests, rabbis, imams and other religious officials should be able to perform civil unions as their conscience and as their faith allow– or not [to preform them], also as their conscience and their faith allow. Creating civil unions increases and enhances religious freedom and forces no one to go against their faith… I believe a family is best defined not by gender but by love and commitment.”

Richard Garcia, parent of a gay daughter, also spoke.

“We live in a world that denies committed gay and lesbian couples the critical
legal protections they need to take care of one another– protections that my other children were given automatically when they got married, protections that my wife and I have had for more than 30 years, protections that [my daughter] Lorena is denied.”

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