In a shocking about-face, a Republican controlled House Judiciary Committee has approved a bill to establish civil unions in Colorado.
The bill, sponsored by gay Denver Democrats Sen. Pat Steadman and Rep. Mark Ferrandino, passed 6-5 with support from Republican Rep. B.J. Nikkel of Loveland.
Nikkel, the House Whip, voted against the bill last year.
“It was simply the right thing to do,” Nikkel said after the vote.
building before a hearing by the Colorado House Judiciary Committee. Speakers included
Denver Mayor Michael Handcock and Councilwoman Robin Kneich.
Photo by Sean Mullins.
The bill is expected to clear all other committees, and become law if it reaches the full House floor by time the Colorado General Assembly is set to adjourn May 9. Scheduling the bill for a vote is up to House Leadership, Republicans who have voiced opposition to the bill.
At least three additional House Republicans have gone on record saying they’ll vote for the bill if it reaches the full floor: Reps. Kevin Priola, Robert Ramirez, and Laura Bradford.
Ferrandino said there is plenty of time to get the bill to Gov. John Hickenlooper who has vowed to sign the bill.
“The calendar is not working against us,” Ferrandino said at a noon rally of civil union supporters.
If signed into law, the bill grants most of all the state rights and responsibilities of marriage to any two Colorado adults regardless of gender.
“It’s appropriate to provide loving, committed couples recognition and protections under Colorado law” Ferrandino said.
The Colorado Constitution defines marriage between one man and one woman.
Testimony from proponents and questions from committee members largely focused on the distinction between civil unions and a Colorado contract known as a designated beneficiary.
Established in 2009 by the Democratically controlled General Assembly allows any two unmarried Coloradans regardless of gender or relationship to create an estate planning contract that includes some medical decision making including end-of-life.
Proponents of the bill said designated beneficiaries fall far short of civil unions. Chief among the flaws of a designated beneficiary, no one knows what it is, they said.
“We’ve taken advantage of every legal recourse possible,” Anna Simon said, sitting along her partner Fran Simon. “But even with our stacks of paper, we never know if it will be sufficient.”
“We are keenly aware of how vulnerable we and our son are,” Fran Simon said.
Rights and responsibilities the Colorado Civil Union Act address that designated beneficiaries don’t include: child custody, adoption, prenuptial agreements and alimony.
“We deserve the 27 rights that this bill will grant us, so we can take care of those we love,” Sonrisa Lucero said.
Opponents claimed supporters of civil unions won’t stop there and will eventually demand civil unions.
“Neither side is happy, neither side will be happy,” said Byron Babione, counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, an sister organization of Focus on the Family. “Make no mistake, a vote for this bill is a vote for same-sex marriage. Achieving civil unions is a grateful step to gaining marriage.”
Babione said if the law is passed it will open up the state to lawsuits.
“This bill is littered with buzzwords that the courts will look for to create an equal protection violation,” he said.
Babione also argued the government should only be interested in relationships for the sake of children.
“It is through children alone that sexual relations are important to society,” he said. “Children is why government is in the marriage business. Marriage is about the overal social policy of Colorado.”
Other opponents cited religion and “natural law” as reasons to strike the law.
“There were no two Adams, there were no two Eves,” said former state Sen. Ed Jones.
“Supporters say this bill is about love and commitment. It is not,” said Tim Leonard. ”I ask you to leave human nature alone and vote no.”
Executive Director of One Colorado, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, Brad Clark congratulated Nikkel.
“Today’s bipartisan vote is a tremendous victory for gay and lesbian couples across the state,” he said. “We applaud Rep. Nikkel’s courageous vote for all families. She is the new face of the Republican Party—a party that’s quickly recognizing that civil unions adhere to a core conservative principle: the less intrusion into personal liberty the better.”
The next committee hearing in the House Finance Committee could be scheduled as soon as Friday morning.
“We look forward to a robust floor debate by all of our Representatives in the coming days. Issues with overwhelming public support like civil unions deserve a full up-or-down vote,” Clark said.