Sen. Spence makes conservative case for Colorado civil unions bill

A bipartisan majority of the Colorado Senate on Wednesday passed a civil unions bill (pdf) that would grant legal recognition to same-sex couples. Senator Nancy Spence from Centennial, one of the Republicans who voted in favor of the bill, argued that the legislation would bolster limited government and individual liberty, core conservative political values recognized by majorities of Republican voters in the state.

“Civil unions are consistent with these values, ensuring the power of the government is not misused to limit the liberties of anyone in Colorado… The Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, must continue to champion civil liberties,” she said.

“With 61 percent of Colorado Republicans supporting civil unions, this is a mainstream idea for our party. Civil unions adhere to a core conservative principle and that is that the less intrusion into personal lives and personal liberty the better. I urge you to support SB002. It’s a bill whose time has come.”

The bill, sponsored by Denver Democrat Pat Steadman, now moves to the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee, where it died last year on a six-to-five party-line vote.

The main front in the battle over the bill this year, however, has moved. A substantial if informal bloc of GOP lawmakers and lobbyists have been building a case on conservative principles for civil unions almost from the time Steadman’s 2011 version of the bill was voted down. Now the lion’s share of debate on substance if not strategy at the capitol and in the press has been conducted exclusively on the right. On the left, in the state, as increasingly in the nation, the basic question of whether or not LGBT Americans are entitled to equality before the law is settled.

A campaign launched yesterday by gay rights group One Colorado lists the six Republican members of the Judiciary Committee and asks supporters to contact them and make the case for the bill. In the Senate, women Republican members led support on the right for the bill. Spence was joined by Jean White from Hayden and Ellen Roberts from Durango.

Last year Roberts argued that thousands of gay Coloradans were already heading families and that those family members, adults and children, were entitled to all the protections and benefits extended by the state to straight families. She added that gay couples also should be held to the same level of responsibility as straight couples, particularly when it comes to meeting the obligations of parenthood. She said that ensuring parents pay child support after divorce or separation are clear family values.

The One Colorado campaign on Facebook prominently features a photo of another Republican woman who could have a say in the fate of the civil unions bill. House Judiciary Committee member B.J. Nikkel of Loveland voted against the bill in the committee hearing last year but has said she’s open to reconsidering the legislation if it comes before Judiciary again this year.

As the Colorado Statesman recently reported, however, it is perhaps Brian DelGrosso, another Judiciary Committee member and another Republican from Loveland, who seems most amenable to reconsidering his vote.

DelGrosso said he shares concerns about whether same-sex couples have adequate rights when it comes to hospital visitation and making medical decisions for one another.

“In Colorado we allow same-sex couples to adopt kids. Do they have the protections? That was one of the reasons I was kind of on the fence last year,” he told the Statesman earlier this month.

DelGrosso said he wasn’t sure the civil unions bill fixes any problems that aren’t already addressed by Colorado’s designated beneficiaries law, but added that he’s open to hearing why the bill’s supporters think otherwise.

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