Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee Passes Bill Permitting Gay And Lesbian Couple To Form Civil Unions; SB 11 Now Heads To Appropriations Committee

In Colorado, a Senate committee on Wednesday passed a bill allowing gay and lesbian couples to form civil unions, despite protests that it violates religious freedoms and overrides the will of Coloradans. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 11 on a 3-2 party-line vote with both Republican senators opposed. The outcome of civil unions this session is not in doubt: Democrats control the, Senate, House and the governor's mansion. But that didn't stop a string of witnesses from testifying for more than four hours, urging the bill's passage or its death. "Today has been years in the making," said Sen. Lucia Guzman (D-Denver) one of four gay lawmakers sponsoring the bill. "There are those here today who spent years hiding, hiding the truth from their parents, friends, bosses, even hiding from themselves." But Kellie Fiedorek with the Alliance Defending Freedom said the bill "fails to provide significant safeguards for the religious liberties of all Coloradans." And Carrie Gordon Earll with CitizenLink, an arm of Focus on the Family, said the bill is not about benefits, but about moving toward redefining marriage. Senate Bill 11 now heads to the Appropriations Committee, one of a number of steps before the measure makes it way to the governor's desk. It is expected to be signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper in March and become law on May 1. A number of opponents pointed out that voters seven years ago rejected a civil-unions type measure while approving a ballot measure defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The voters' will should, in fact, be honored, they said. But Sen. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Commerce City) stressed that much has changed since 2006, including attitudes toward gays and civil unions. "Our laws are living and breathing," he said. Sen. Irene Aguilar (D-Denver) emphasised that voters in 2006 also rejected legalizing marijuana, which elicited laughter from crowd, which as times was standing-room only. Voters in November approved a measure that legalizes the sale and use of marijuana. During the witnesses phase, Mario Nicolais, spokesman for Coloradans for Freedom, a group of Republicans supporting civil unions, cited the movie "Lincoln" and the first Republican president's quest for liberty. "I know many people who are afraid of the so-called 'homosexual agenda,’” he said. "The so-called homosexual agenda is nothing more than a desire to participate in the American dream the rest of us are already afforded." Perhaps the most poignant testimony came from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who talked about his brother's death from AIDS and how his mother was discriminated against. Opponent Rosina Kovar later testified that the bill was an attempt to "shut up Christians." This year's measure no longer includes a provision that exempts adoption agencies from placing children with same sex couples, which has upset Catholic adoption agencies and other groups. But Steadman noted even when the bill contained that exemption Catholic leaders still testified against his measure, so he decided not to include it this year.

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