Civil unions bill passes Senate: Steadman says it’s about the children

Civil unions debated on the House floor (Boven)

The gay and lesbian community are one step closer to being able to participate in state sanctioned unions after the Colorado Senate voted to pass on second reading SB 172. While Democrats heralded the bill as a historic moment in the fight for civil rights and the protection of children, many Republicans voted against the bill, saying it would weaken the institution of marriage.

“I believe that there is an arc of history to today’s debate,” Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, said in support of the bill. “This debate starts with that old promise that we talk a lot about in this room. That is that “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.”

The bill would allow adults to enter into lawful unions that would work in much the same fashion as marriage by providing partners the legal custody of children, rights of attorney, and inheritance of real property among a number of other benefits and obligations. The bill would also provide reciprocity to recognize the rights of couples who had similar relationships in other states.

“This license would grant adults who choose this relationship access to many, many responsibilities and benefits that ordinarily otherwise apply to married couples under our state law,” bill sponsor Rep. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said as he stacked books of Colorado laws behind him. “What we are talking about, through Senate Bill 172, is taking all of the laws that this Legislature has passed in 130 some years and offering to include additional people within the protections and benefits found in these red books.”

Like a marriage, the bill would also put in place a legally binding contract Steadman said would protect children by ensuring that couples had custody of children conceived during the union or in adoptions. He said that this would provide those children two parents from whom they could receive insurance, care, and child support benefits if the union was terminated.  Steadman told the Colorado Independent that he worked on the floor to frame the bill in terms of its protections of children and felt it was one of its more powerful aspects.

“[It] will only make families stronger, more stable and more secure,” Steadman said. “Today, we have children in Colorado who are severely disadvantaged because they do not have two parents because the law does not recognize the bond between two people and the legal entitlement to both becoming parents.”

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, one of a handful of Republicans voting in favor of the bill, has said she too sees the issue in light of children’s protections.

Steadman said the bill in no way affected the institution of marriage in the state and said Colorado citizens were not only ready for civil unions but were widely in favor of them.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, however, didn’t see eye to eye with Steadman on the issue. Acknowledging that the bill would pass the Senate, he argued, as he did in committee, that civil unions are as close to marriage as is possible for the Legislature to get. And he challenged Steadman’s assertion that people are ready for such legislation. He said the people of Colorado have been clear in in the past by voting down a similar initiative in 2006.

Despite Lundberg’s assertions that civil unions are not supported by the Colorado people, the Colorado Independent recently reported that last year two national polling firms, Greenberg Quinlan Rossner and American Viewpoint, found support for civil unions in the 70 percent to 80 percent range. This year Public Policy Polling found roughly 72 percent of Coloradans supported civil unions.

Lundberg said the issue before the body Wednesday was not simply civil unions but “how shall we define marriage in the laws for the State of Colorado.”

Lundberg said the history of civil unions should be acknowledged and, through observing France and other countries that have instituted similar laws, see the effect they have had on the institution of marriage. Lundberg said they had not strengthened the family unit.

“What we see are cultures that have abandoned the family unit,” Lundberg said.

It was a position he continued to hold after the bill’s passage on a voice vote.

Speaking to reporters, Lundberg said, “I hope that the House will have a better sense to protect the institution of marriage and the family by defeating Senate Bill 172.”

Democrats, however, were jubilant in the outcome of the vote as many, including House sponsor, Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, descended on Steadman with hugs and words of congratulations.

Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, after the bills passage, said she had stood in support of the bill as a member of the LGBT community and as a way to show the support of many of her constituency. She said that it was not often that she took a stance as a member of a race, sexual orientation, or gender but that in this case it brought greater depth to her support.

Other groups, including OneColorado were on hand to offer comments.

“Today is a tremendous victory for gay and lesbian couples across the state—and for all fair-minded Coloradans,” said Brad Clark, Executive Director of OneColorado, a statewide LGBT advocacy organization. “We look forward to working with House Republican leadership who have promised a fair hearing.”

Steadman, who is openly gay,  said that he was happy at the bill’s passage but said it was not just for his own community that the bill had passed.

“Really some of the most important protections are for children, and I think that I made that case on the floor,” Steadman said.

Paul Weissman, chief of staff for the Colorado House Democrats, told the Colorado Independent that the bill’s ultimate passage will rely on the committee assignment of House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch.

Weissman said that if the bill comes to the floor the votes are shored up to see its passage safely to the governor’s desk.

The bill now moves to third reading where it is expected to pass on to the House.

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