The bill, sponsored by Sens. Pat Steadman and Lucia Guzman, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 5-2.
All four Democrats and one Republican on the panel supported the bill. Sen. Ellen Roberts, a Judiciary Committee member who crossed party lines to vote with Democrats for a similar civil unions bill in 2011, voted for it again tonight.
Roberts said she’s kept an open mind on the issue, but hasn’t been persuaded to change her position.
The executive director of One Colorado, a statewide LGBT advocacy organization, applauded the vote.
“Today’s testimony reflects the widespread support for this legislation,” Brad Clark said.
“Business executives and faith leaders, Republicans and Democrats, gay parents and straight allies all realize that passing civil unions is the right thing to do. With their approval, the Senators on the Judiciary Committee affirmed that all families are worthy of dignity and respect.”
The legislation would offer many basic rights and protections to same-sex couples that heterosexual married couples have, but a provision in the bill describes it as distinct from marriage.
Steadman, who is openly gay, told the committee that civil unions are separate and unequal to marriage – yet are still crucial legal protections for unmarried adults.
The bill “clearly recites what I consider discriminatory language and I did recite it again, because it’s (required by) our state Constitution,” Steadman said to the committee member just before the vote.
A similar bill passed the same committee last year and went on to pass in the Senate, but was eventually killed by Republicans on a House Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote.
Republicans control Colorado’s House of Representatives by one vote – 33-32 – and have a majority on each House committee. Democrats have a solid majority and control all committees in the Senate.
Colorado voters approved a state constitutional amendment in 2006 that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, preventing the legislature from passing a law to enact same-sex marriages. Supporters of civil unions, including statewide advocacy organization One Colorado, argue that civil unions remain within the legislature’s purview.
But several self-identified conservatives argued civil unions are one step closer to same-sex marriage and an encroachment of their religious liberties.
Senate members today received about 30,000 postcards from voters opposing the bill, Senate Judiciary Committee Republican Kevin Lundberg said, doubting that polls showing majorities favor civil unions are accurate. He also called civil unions the “first step” toward same-sex marriage in remarks before voting against the bill.
“It’s not a given that this is simply a matter of justice,” Lundberg said.
Out Judiciary Committee member Guzman’s voice cracked when she thanked Steadman for his work on the bill. Guzman offered an olive branch to civil unions opponents – saying she has great respect for the Catholic Church and those who hold true to their doctrines.
Sen. Angela Giron, a Democrat from Pueblo, thanked the Catholic Church for teaching her the value of social justice as she prepared to vote for the bill in line with her interpretation of those teachings.
The bill is expected to clear the Democratic controlled Senate and head to the House where, the bill currently does not have a sponsor.
Gay Denver Rep. Mark Ferrandino, who leads the Democratic party in the House, has told Out Front Colorado he is searching for a House Republican sponsor to carry the bill.