Civil unions bill passes Senate, heads to House

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DENVER — After an afternoon of stirring speeches from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, the state Senate voted 23-12 to pass legislation that would legalize same-sex civil unions in Colorado.

The measure now heads to the House, where Republicans hold a one-seat majority and are positioned to kill it.

Last year, House Republicans killed the measure on a party-line vote in a committee without allowing it to advance to the House floor.

In the Senate, three Republicans voted in favor or Senate Bill 2, along with the chamber’s 20 Democrats — the same three GOP senators who did so last year: Sen. Nancy Spence of Centennial, Sen. Jean White of Hayden and Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango.

“Senate Bill 2 is about respect for all loving, committed relationships,” White said on the Senate floor. “The Declaration of Independence says ‘liberty and justice for all.’ That means for all.

“I’m a Republican,” White continued. “I believe in individual freedom and keeping government out of our lives. So how can I vote no?”

Other Republicans who spoke against the bill Thursday offered similar explanations, concerned that recognizing civil unions would essentially allow gay marriage, which is banned under Amendment 2 to the Colorado Constitution; and that doing so would hurt society.

“I truly believe Jesus is a better answer than S.B. 2,” said Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley. “This bill tears at the very fabric of our morality and our society.”

Two other Republicans, Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud and Sen. Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs, went to the well carrying stacks of postcards and letters they’ve received from constituents who oppose the bill.

“We are redefining marriage,” said Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch.

“In this Constitution, it says marriage is between a man and a woman. And you all swore an oath to uphold this Constitution,” Harvey told his colleagues.

If signed into law, S.B. 2 will provide committed gay and lesbian couples with critical legal protections and responsibilities, such as the ability to inherit property, to take family leave to care for a partner, to visit a partner in the hospital, and to make medical and end-of-life decisions for a partner.

Despite the strong opinions expressed by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, the debate remained civil.

Toward the end, Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, the bill’s openly gay sponsor, called the back-and-forth between lawmakers “one of the finer moments” he’s seen in the chamber.

Now, the bill heads back to the House, where Rep. Mark Ferrandino, who carried the bill last year, will sponsor it again after failing to find a Republican member willing to do so.

Ferrandino, D-Denver, knows it will again be an uphill battle, with Republicans holding the edge on whatever committee is assigned to hear the bill and able to kill the measure before it ever reaches the House floor.

“If we can get a floor vote, I’m confident we have the votes to pass the measure through the House this year,” Ferrandino said.

A conservative website Thursday posted a story in which Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, is quoted saying that the bill will be killed in the House because of the Senate’s failure Wednesday to adopt amendments offered by Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, that would have made some religious exceptions for some medical professionals who objected to same-sex relationships.

Waller has not confirmed the statement.