Civil unions getting final vote in Colorado on Tuesday



DENVER — Marking a big political shift, civil unions for gay couples are expected to get final approval from Colorado lawmakers Tuesday – seven years after state voters chose to ban same-sex marriage.

If the bill passes the House, as is likely, it also would highlight a political victory for Democrats who campaigned on the issue and rallied voter support in November’s elections after Republicans used their one-vote majority in the chamber to prevent the measure from being debated last year.

Democrats now control both chambers of the Legislature, and the party elected the first gay speaker of the Colorado House.

“I ask for a ‘yes’ vote for love, a ‘yes’ vote for family, and a ‘yes’ vote for equal protection,” said Democratic House Speaker Mark Ferrandino on Monday before a preliminary vote on the bill.

If the measure passes it would head to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has urged lawmakers to pass civil unions the last two years.

The proposal has been one of the most emotional and contentious of the last three sessions. Gay couples have urged lawmakers to pass the bill, saying it would grant them legal protections they don’t have because they’re not allowed to marry.

Democrats had enough votes last year to pass the bill, but Republicans refused to bring it up for debate, killing it and several other bills in the waning hours of the session.

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Republicans have argued the bill undermines the institution of marriage and that it doesn’t provide religious exemptions for those opposed to civil unions.

“What I am concerned about is really this hostility, this lack of tolerance towards deeply held religious beliefs,” said Republican Rep. Amy Stephens, who was the GOP House leader last year.

Democrats contend that the Republican suggestions to amend the bill would open the door to discrimination.

About a dozen states have civil unions or similar laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Six states allow gay marriage.

The approval of civil unions underscores the changing demographics and political leanings of the state over the last two decades.

In 1992, Colorado voters approved a ban on municipal anti-discrimination laws to protect gays. Four years later, the U.S. Supreme Court said the law, known as Amendment 2, was unconstitutional, but not before some branded Colorado a “hate state.”

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