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Civil union bill gets initial approval by Colorado state Senate

Civil union bill gets initial approval by Colorado state Senate

DENVER — The Colorado State Senate on Friday gave the initial OK to a bill that would establish relationship recognition for same-sex couples after hours of debate and four attempts by Republican lawmakers to amend the bill to either establish or strengthen religious exemptions and halt how quickly the the bill becomes law.

The Senate will need to consider the bill again next week before passing it off to the state of House of Representatives.

Colorado state capitol in Denver.

Republican senators proposed four amendments to the Colorado Civil Union Act that more specifically would have defined religious entities as small businesses with stated religious values and granted those entities an opt-out from recognizing civil unions between same-sex couples; would have allowed child placement agencies to rebuff applications by same-sex couples; would have referred the bill to the voters in a referendum; and would have pushed the start date for the bill back 90 days after the legislature adjourned giving voters the right to repeal the law by ballot.

Supporters of the first proposed amendment said the bill in current form redefines the First Amendment and would deny individuals their rights to practice their religion for the sake of same-sex couples.

“Women’s suffrage was not established by taking away the vote of men,” Hill said, arguing religious rights would suffer if the bill becomes law.

Supporters of the Colorado Civil Union Act said the amendment would have written discrimination into the law.

Just moments before Hill introduced his amendment, sponsor of the Colorado Civil Union Act, state Sen. Pat Steadman told those who would like the option to discriminate against same sex couples, “Get thee to a nunnery … Go to your church and build separate water fountains.”

Steadman said discrimination had no place in civil law.

Arguing their other amendments, Republicans forewarned of doom including adoption agencies shutting down and litigation.

“Pass the bill without the amendment and adoptions will stop, not all, but many,” the amendment sponsor Sen. Kevin Lundberg warned.

Steadman said it should ‘give us all pause’ if adoption agencies operate on religious beliefs rather than what’s best for kids.

The Colorado Senate debated the question of whether the State should establish relationship recognition for same-sex couples for the third time in as many years.

The bill, sponsored in the Senate by Steadman and and state Sen. Lucia Guzman, both openly gay Denver Democrats, is expected to pass easily with bipartisan support — as it has in the past. First introduced by Steadman in 2011, state Republican House leadership in previous years blocked the bill from advancing to the executive branch and becoming law.

But with a change in leadership — Democrats now control both chambers of the state legislature — comes assurance as the sky is blue: the bill will be signed into law by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper sometime in early spring, after the bill clears every legislative hurdle as defined by law. That includes multiple committee hearings, a debate and two votes by each chamber.

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“I know how the vote is going to go today,” smiled out gay lawmaker Sen. Jessie Ulibarri.

Ulibarri chaired the debate.

The current version of bill had already cleared two hearings. Today’s debate set up a final vote by the Senate next week. At that point, out lawmakers Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, and state Rep. Sue Schaffer, D-Wheat Ridge, will carry the bill in the House.

The law is expected to take effect May 1.

“This is an urgent matter that needs to be settled here and now,” Steadman said.

Missing from Senate floor today is Steadman’s partner, Dave Misner. Misner died last year after battling pancreatic cancer.

Steadman had, in previous debates, evoked his relationship with Misner, as Misner looked on from the sidelines of the Senate.

At Misner’s memorial, Steadman vowed to finish what they started together.

“Despite my personal loss, my mission is urgent and is within my grasp,” Steadman said in September.

In introducing the bill during today’s debate, Steadman said the legislation was gift.

“Senate Bill 11 is for the lovers and the gifts they give one another. Senate Bill 11 is the gift we give them,” he said.

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