New poll, same message: Coloradans strongly favor equal rights for gay couples

Survey results released by Public Policy Polling this week underline broad support in Colorado for some form of legislation that would grant gay couples equal partnership rights. Although Republican members of the House Judicial Committee last year quashed a popular civil unions bill, PPP found that even among Colorado Republican voters, support for civil unions-style legislation is now nearing 60 percent.

“I think Republican House members already know this,” Brad Clark, director of gay rights group One Colorado, told the Colorado Independent. “These new numbers reinforce what what we already know: that there has been a sea change on this topic in the state and around the country.”

The civil unions bill brought by state Senator Pat Steadman and Representative Mark Ferrandino would have granted a slew of rights not presently available to gay people, especially rights that seek to protect families. The bill would have established, for example, alimony and child support and visitation rights in cases where relationships between same-sex adult parents and partners dissolved. It would have protected gay couples from being forced to testify against each other in court and would have made it illegal to deny partners to a civil union health insurance and survivor benefits.

It also sought to make access to rights more equitable.

Benefits enjoyed by straight couples and presently accessible to gay couples, for example, like the power to make medical decisions and inherit property, come with a high price tag in attorney fees for gay couples and can be confusing to authorities at hospitals, for instance, who can be forgiven for not understanding power of attorney arrangements.

The Steadman-Ferrandino bill drew powerful testimony both for and against and gained increasing support over the weeks it moved through various hearing rooms at the capitol. It passed the Democratic controlled Senate, and Ferrandino was confident he had won over enough Republicans for the bill to pass in a full chamber floor vote in the House.

That vote, however, never came. The six GOP members of the House Judiciary Committee killed the bill. They pointed to Amendment 43, passed in 2006, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. They said they thought voting for civil unions would be inappropriately overriding the will of the people, a line of argument many saw as mere cover to oppose the bill for ideological or political reasons.

As Clark points out, a lot has changed since 2006, and that line of opposition to civil unions may hold even less persuasive power when the bill is introduced again in 2012.

Even last year, polls conducted around the bill demonstrated strong support in the state.

Judicial Committee Chair Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, told the Colorado Independent after the vote that, if supporters of gay rights believe they have the will of the people on their side now, they should write a ballot initiative and ask the people to vote on it.

In fact, a citizen-authored ballot-initiative asking voters to repeal Amendment 43 is in the works.

Clark, however, is betting on the legislature. He says lawmakers have a responsibility to represent the citizens.

“We send our elected officials to the capitol to make decisions on our behalf, and some of those are tough decisions. To say that Colorado families have to run a multimillion dollar campaign to secure their rights, well that’s very disappointing.”

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