House Dems press for full vote on Colorado civil unions bill

(image: Alan Light, Flickr)

Activists, lobbyists and citizens this week have been pressing for at least one of six Republican members of the state House Judiciary Committee to vote in favor of sending Pat Steadman’s same-sex civil unions bill to the House floor for debate. On Tuesday, the House Democratic caucus officially joined the campaign.

“Civil Unions are clearly an important issue to the people of Colorado. This bill deserves to be debated by all 65 members of the State House,” said House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo. “I call on Speaker McNulty, Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Bob Gardner and the House Republicans to join House Democrats in sending the bill to the full House so that civil unions can have a robust debate and a straight up or down vote. Coloradans deserve that much.”

Denver Senator Pat Steadman introduced SB 172 in February. The bill would grant gay couples extended domestic partnership rights.

Gay couples are prevented from marrying by Amendment 43, passed in 2006, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Under current laws, gay couples can’t draw on each others’ health insurance or death benefits. There are also legal and financial hurdles they have to jump to secure the right to make medical decisions for one another and to plan their estates and to adopt children. There are no effective laws by which they can arrange for alimony or child support or visitation. Gay partners can’t visit each other in jail and they can be made to testify against one another in court.

Many straight senior citizens drawing benefits from deceased spouses would also like to take advantage of the legal rights and responsibilities that would come with civil unions.

Steadman’s law has drawn out strong supporters and detractors among the public. It has become one of the high-profile media stories of the legislative session and has gained traction among Republican lawmakers as a way to advance individual liberty and responsibility and support families and children.

Surveys have demonstrated that 72 percent of Coloradans support civil unions as a matter of fairness. A 2010 Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner poll found that 61 percent of Republicans favor civil unions.

Yet a simple majority of votes on the eleven-member House Judiciary Committee could kill the bill, preventing it from moving to the House floor for consideration. Judiciary Committee Republicans, mostly strong faith-based social conservatives, have said they will give the bill a fair hearing. The bill is scheduled to be heard before the committee Thursday afternoon.

“Enacting Civil Union legislation would provide committed Colorado couples – gay and straight – with the legal protections they need to take care of the ones they love. The bill will also give important protections to the children of gay and lesbian couples,” said House sponsor Mark Ferrandino, an openly gay Denver Democrat.

Ferrandino told the Colorado Independent last week that the fact that the bill drew three of fifteen Republican votes in the Senate and that House Republicans have already gone on record in support of the bill argues strongly in favor of bringing the bill before lawmakers for a roll call vote. Republicans hold a one-seat majority in the House.

“Civil Unions are supported by a vast majority of Coloradans… [The bill] received bipartisan support in the Senate. It is clear that now is the right time to provide committed couples with the tools they need to take care of and be responsible for their families and each other.

“We’re your sons and daughters, your coworkers and your neighbors,” Ferrandino said in a House Democratic caucus release. “We’re taxpayers, business owners, and members of every community across this state. This is an issue of fairness and justice and deserves to be given a full and fair debate by the entire House.”

[ Image: Mark Ferrandino ]

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