Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Colorado House Formally Passes Same Sex Civil Unions Law 39-26; Bill Absent Of Religious Exemptions; Governor Hickenlooper Will Sign Bill Which Would Become Law May 1

In Colorado, the House voted 39-26 Tuesday to allow gay and lesbian couples to form civil unions despite protests from Republicans that the issue will wind up in court because it doesn't offer religious exemptions. Speaker Mark Ferrandino, a gay Denver Democrat who has carried the bill for three straight years, said the bill is about love, family and equality under the law. "This wasn't a choice. This is who I am," Ferrandino said, of being gay. According to the Denver Post, all 37 Democrats and two of the 28 Republicans supported civil unions: Representatives Carole Murray of Castle Rockand and Cheri Gerou of Evergreen. "I'm a Republican and a conservative and I like this bill," said Gerou, who stood as Ferrandino spoke. A number of Democrats talked about the importance of Colorado passing a civil unions law. "This is an historic moment," said Rep. Pete Lee (D-Colorado Springs) who said the date will be remembered in history much like the recognition of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Milestones in the gay movement also were mentioned: Stonewall riots, the Harvey Milk assassination, the passage of Amendment 2 in Colorado and it being struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court and the death of Matthew Shephard. Rep. Dominick Moreno (D-Commerce City) thanked the House on behalf of himself and the other four members of the House who are gay. The 65-member body House debated the bill for more than four hours Monday, fending off Republicans who attempted to amend Senate Bill 11 to send it to the voters or add exemptions for religious conscience. Rep. Joann Ginal (D-Fort Collins) described living for years worried she was going to lose her friends, her family and her job if she revealed she was gay. "I could not share personal stories of who I loved, who I went on vacation with, who I shared my home with and why," she said. "I've waited for this recognition for over 40 years. This truly is a historic day for equality in Colorado." Rep. Angela Williams (D-Denver) talked about her younger brother coming out to her and her very Catholic parents. Last week during a bill granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrant students, Williams said she wanted to be on the right side of his history, and that's how she felt about the civil unions bill, also. "History tells us that societies that do not respect the freedom of conscience will not long endure," said Rep. Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs), who unsuccessfully tried to get religious exemptions added to the bill. Ferrandino, a gay Denver Democrat, fought the exemptions and particularly the attempt to send the measure to the voters. He said that would only delay equality for gays. He pointed to his Senate sponsor, gay Denver Democrat Pat Steadman, whose partner died last September after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. This is the third year in a row that Ferrandino and Steadman have sponsored a civil unions bill, although this time they each had a co prime sponsor, Sen. Lucia Guzman (D-Denver) in the Senate, and Rep. Sue Schafer (D-Wheat Ridge) in the House. The civil unions bill died in 2011 in the GOP-controlled House Judiciary Committee. In 2012, Ferrandino had the votes to pass it but then Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, refused to call it up for a debate and the bill died in dramatic fashion on the second to last night of the session. Democrats took back the House in November so the outcome of the civil unions bill this session was never in doubt. Senate Bill 11 has already cleared the Democratic-controlled Senate, and after Tuesday's vote the bill will go to Democratic Gov. Hickenlooper who has long been supportive of gay rights. The bill would become law on May 1.

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