Steadman rolls out civil unions bill as valentine to Colorado

State Sen. Pat Steadman introduced his civil unions bill in the Colorado capitol Monday, a Valentine’s Day treat for lawmakers to consider in the coming months.

“Civil unions will allow committed couples to share in the responsibilities and protections in Colorado law that most families take for granted,” he said in a release. “Our society is stronger when we promote personal responsibility and taking care of one another, and civil unions do just that.”

The bill comes after weeks of anticipation. Steadman has taken his time throughout the process. He carefully weighed even sponsoring the bill, telling the Colorado Independent last summer that he sympathized with critics of civil unions who say such laws codify a less-than-equal status for gay couples. In the end, however, he said that the rights and responsibilities legally recognized civil unions conferred in everyday matters like medical care and inheritance were too vital to ignore.

After the legislative session began in January, Steadman allowed bill drafters time to pore over the hundreds of instances where statutes address the rights and responsibilities of married couples. He plans to have lawmakers opposed to the bill articulate exactly which of those rights and responsibilities they would keep from gay Coloradans.

“Especially in these difficult economic times, gay and lesbian couples need the critical protections that civil unions offer to provide for their families,” said Brad Clark, director of gay rights group OneColorado, in a release. “Civil unions will ensure that thousands of gay and lesbian couples all across the state can protect the ones they love.”

Coloradans voted in 2006 to ban same-sex marriage by passing Amendment 43, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, but polls show deep support in the state for civil unions. Last year two national polling firms, Greenberg Quinlan Rossner and American Viewpoint, found support for civil unions in the 70 percent and 80 percent range. This year Public Policy Polling found roughly 72 percent of Coloradans supported civil unions.

Civil unions reach into matters great and small. They would grant same-sex couples the ability to share health insurance policies, pass on property to one another, take family leave to care for one another, visit each other in the hospital and in prison, sign school field trip forms for children and make medical and end-of-life decisions.

Steadman’s bill would not require religious officials to certify the civil union partnerships.

Religious leaders in support of the bill have said they see it as a matter of religious freedom. Faith leaders who believe in supporting marriage between two adults regardless of gender should be able to confer their blessing in an official way. Faith leaders who don’t believe in supporting gay marriage should likewise not be forced to confer such blessings.

First Unitarian Rev. Mike Morran expounded on the point at an event held in advance of the bill’s introduction in January.

“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.”

“This is a civil rights issue. It’s time that we treat all people equally,” said Senate President Brandon Shaffer. “I support this bill because it’s the right thing to do.”

Steadman’s bill should easily pass in the Democratic-controlled state Senate. Denver Rep. Mark Ferrandino plans to co-sponsor the bill in the House, where Republicans hold a one-seat majority.

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