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After three years of waiting, Colorado House poised to debate civil unions bill

After three years of waiting, Colorado House poised to debate civil unions bill

DENVER — It is the moment Colorado’s LGBT and allied community has been waiting for.

Colorado’s House of Representatives will, for the first time, debate a piece of legislation Monday that when passed will create a state recognized relationship status for same-sex couples here.

Members of the Colorado House of Representatives, and their families, on opening day of the Colorado General Assembly’s first regular session of 2013.
Photo: Evan Semon, Out Front Colorado

It is a debate three years in the making, and one supporters are sure to win. The debate, and formal vote on Tuesday, signals the last legislative lap before the bill is signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper, which he has promised to do.

The Colorado Civil Union Act, first introduced in 2011 by gay Denver Democrats state Sen. Pat Steadman and Rep. Mark Ferrandino, had been denied access to the full floor of the chamber by House GOP leadership in the two years leading up to Monday’s debate.

In 2011, the bill was killed by a House Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote.

The following year, state Rep. B.J. Nikkel, a Loveland Republican, joined all the Democrats on the same panel in supporting the measure, breathing new life into the politically charged legislation.

But in one of the most shocking conclusions of a regular session of the state’s General Assembly, then-Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, and his leadership team, put the full House in recess until the constitutional clock ran out on the bill.

Democrats had attempted a procedural measure of their own to force a debate on the bill.

Despite a second chance to debate the bill, House Republicans sent another version of the legislation to a kill committee during a 2012 special session called by Hickenlooper.

Opponents of the bill have claimed the legislation thwarts the will of the voters who in 2006 approved a state constitutional amendment defining marriage between a man and a woman. The same election year, a referendum to create domestic partnerships was killed at the ballot box.

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Further, opponents claim the bill does not protect religious liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment. Small business owners who provide services in the wedding industry will be forced to sanction same-sex relationships despite their religious beliefs.

Supporters of the bill point to a sea-change of public opinion on the matter — recent polls show 70 percent of Coloradans support relationship recognition for same-sex couples — and argue Colorado’s public accommodation laws already prohibit discrimination based of sexual orientation in the public sector.

And while a raucous debate can be expected, Democrats are now in control of the both chambers of the Statehouse and the governor’s mansion. The bill’s fate has already been decided and civil union licenses will begin being issued May 1.

“This is an urgent matter whose time has come,” said Steadman during a February debate in the state Senate.

The bill previously cleared that chamber with bipartisan support.

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