Historic House vote sends civil unions bill to governor
DENVER — Less than a year after a Republican House Majority ran out the clock on civil unions legislation at the end of the legislative session, the new Democratic House Majority Tuesday celebrated the final passage of that bill.
Senate Bill 11, which will give same-sex couples the same legal protections straight couples receive, is on its way to Gov. John Hickenlooper to be signed into law.
It passed the full House on a a vote of 39-26 Tuesday morning, with all 37 House Democrats voting for the bill, along with just two Republicans: Rep. Cheri Gerou of Evergreen and Rep. Carole Murray of Castle Rock.
The bill’s sponsor, Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, one of eight openly gay legislators serving in the 100-member General Assembly, presided over the final debate, with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle speaking briefly in the well.
With his parter, Greg, sister, Nicole, and daughter, Lila, standing in the back of the House chamber, Ferrandino spoke last, using some of the remarks he prepared for last year’s floor debate that went unsaid.
“We should make laws that are just for everyone,” Ferrandino said. “This wasn’t a choice. This is who I am. This is who we are. We need to make laws in our society that respect everyone equally.
As Ferrandino spoke, one lawmaker stood out of respect: Gerou.
“I ask for an aye vote to honor love, committment and equality,” Ferrandino concluded.
For Ferrandino, the other four LGBT lawmakers in the House and many Democrats, the occasion wasn’t just a political victory — it was personal.
“When you decide who you are, you embark on a journey of self-acceptance,” said Rep. Dominc Moreno, D-Commerce City, who is part of the House LGBT caucus. ”By passing this bill today, we give young people, we give LGBT people, that ultimate acceptance, that you are equal in the eyes of your government.”
A few Democrats noted how far the cause has come in the state, roughly two decades since voters approved Amendment Two, which helped define Colorado as “the hate state.”
“This is a historic moment,” said Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs. “With this vote, we begin to redeem our friends, our families, from the scourge of discrimination and inequality.”
“We have really moved toward recognizing that people should be allowed to live how they want to live,” said Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver.
Several Democrats told personal stories about relatives and friends who have faced discrimination for being gay; others mentioned Matthew Shephard, a gay Wyoming college student who was tortured murdered in 1998.
“How many more hate crimes against GLBT people must happen before we say we should all be equal?” said Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver.
Other members of the House GOP caucus made their opposition to the bill known, going to the well to argue against it one last time.
“We won’t get to debate this again here,” said Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono, who argued that civil unions equates to gay marriage. ”We will debate this in a court of law.”
Saine and other Republicans repeated their criticism that the bill, without an exemption for those businesses and groups with a religious objection to serving gay couples, discriminates against the religious.
“I’m confident the question will be raised and tested in court,” said Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker.
“[House Democrats] said they would have a laser-like focus on jobs and the economy,” Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial. “I don’t see that on this bill.”
After hearing so many of her GOP colleagues speak against the bill, Gerou came to the well to argue that civil unions is in line with conservative values and principles.
“I’m a Republican and a conservative and I like this bill,” said Gerou. “The Republican Party is bigger than the debate we’ve had on this bill. It’s a party about individual freedom, which is what this bill is about.”
Gerou even went as far as to call out her Republican caucus for failing to support last year’s version of the bill, which included the religious exemption.
Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, who made the decision as Speaker last May to deny the bill a floor vote, did not speak on the floor Tuesday.
Gov. Hickenlooper will likely sign the bill next week in a public ceremony. The bill is set to take effect May 1.