DENVER The state Senate approved civil unions for gay and lesbian couples Thursday after what the sponsor called a historic and civil debate.
Gays and lesbians cannot marry in Colorado, but Senate Bill 172 offers them the same rights as married couples under state law. They would still lack marriage rights in other states and under federal law if the bill passes the House.
The Senate voted 23-12 for the bill Thursday. All 20 Democrats and all three Republican women supported it.
In the first part of the debate Wednesday, the sponsor, Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, stood in front of a stack of eight statute books that contain the rights and responsibilities of married people all of which his bill would apply to people in civil unions.
These are important legal protections that many people take for granted and may not even realize that they exist in our state laws, and they were automatically conferred upon them by virtue of their marital status, Steadman said.
The bill would grant couples the automatic right to make medical decisions for each other, inherit property and adopt children, as well as the responsibility to take care of children if a civil union breaks up, similar to a divorce.
Opponents called the bill gay marriage by another name.
This is a dramatic and radical change to marriage in the state of Colorado, said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud.
France and Scandinavian counties that already have civil unions have become cultures that have abandoned the family unit as the core institution of society, Lundberg said.
The vote came a little more than four years after Colorado voters narrowly rejected a similar idea during the same election they passed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
The people of Colorado were very clear on this just a few election cycles ago, Lundberg said.
But Steadman said public opinion on gay rights is changing rapidly.
Two GOP women went to the microphone Thursday to explain their votes, including Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango.
Roberts said current law on gay families has some gaps, especially for childrens rights, and SB 172 would fix them.
The moral debate about whether this is right or wrong belongs in our faith communities, and not in this chamber, not in this building, Roberts said.
Sen. Jean White, R-Hayden, said both of her brothers have gay children.
My vote today is for love and respect and commitment. My vote today is for my niece and my nephew, White said.
For the sponsors, the bill is even more personal. Both Steadman and his House sponsor, Rep. Mark Ferrandino, are gay.
SB 172 faces one more potentially fatal test its first House committee.
Ferrandino said Wednesday he has lined up four Republicans who will vote yes in the House, and its possible he will find six to 10. Coupled with heavy Democratic support, thats enough to pass the bill if it survives long enough to hit the House floor.
But depending on which committee Speaker of the House Frank McNulty assigns the bill to, it might not make it to the floor.
Advocates are now focusing on pitching the bill to House Republicans from a civil liberties and family values perspective, said Jessica Woodrum of One Colorado, which is lobbying for SB 172.
Reach Joe Hanel at firstname.lastname@example.org.