Legislature OKs civil unions

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For gay couples in Colorado, the third time turned out to be the charm.

Legislation that legalizes civil unions has now cleared the state General Assembly, following passage through the House of Representatives on March 12.

The passage follows two unsuccessful attempts at getting the bill through prior legislative sessions. The measure now goes to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is expected to sign it.

“We are fulfilling a promise we made at the end of the last session, and we made to the people of Colorado, that we would get this done,” said House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver. “And now, it’s headed to the governor’s desk.”

Senate Bill 11, which would allow gay couples to enter into commitments that are similar to marriage, passed the House on a 39-26 vote.

Two Republicans voted for the bill: Reps. Carole Murray of Castle Rock and Cheri Gerou of Evergreen.

“I’m a Republican and a conservative, and I like this bill,” Gerou said from the House floor. “I know this is the right thing to do.”

Murray and Gerou joined Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango as the only Republican lawmakers to vote for civil unions this legislative session.

But the majority of Republicans had concerns with the bill. Chief among them was their belief that the legislation does not go far enough in allowing exemptions for entities that have religious objections to civil unions.

“I think it’s unfortunate that we didn’t provide that clarity in that law,” said Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker.

Several Republicans, including Rep. Lori Saine of Dacono, argued that civil unions are akin to gay marriage — something that Coloradans voted to ban in 2006. That same year, voters rejected a bill that would have put in place something similar to civil unions.

“We won’t get to debate this again here, we will debate this in a court of law,” Saine cautioned.

But Democrats believe that times have changed and that the public — and history — is firmly on their side on this issue. But they also said that more work needs to be done to achieve equality.

“Changing the conversation in politics isn’t just about taking a vote,” said Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Commerce City. “It’s about talking with your neighbors and sitting down one-on-one and having people see your family and recognize that you deserve protection under the law.”

With civil unions soon to be a reality, Democrats are hopeful that a forthcoming U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage bans will pave the way for the Colorado to join other states that recognize same-sex marriages.

Sen. Pat Steadman — who lost his longtime partner to cancer last year — said that getting civil unions through the Legislature marks a “joyous occasion,” but that “we’re not there yet.”

“I don’t want anyone to think that we’ve reached the peak and climbed the summit of that mountain that challenges us in terms of full inclusion of equal participation in today’s society,” he said. “Civil unions are lesser and not equal and that really is not good enough.”

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