Gay couples will soon be able to enter into civil unions in the state of Colorado.
The bill on its way to the desk of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has been outspoken in his support of civil unions, is expected to be signed into law within two weeks, capping a three-year fight over a proposal to grant gay couples rights similar to marriage.
“We are delighted that the state of Colorado has taken this important step toward equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” Scarlet Bowen, director of the GLBTQ Resource Center said Wednesday. “Civil Unions still do not confer the 1,138 federal laws that pertain to marriage, but we still have reason to celebrate this important legal victory in Colorado.”
The on-campus center serves about 3,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, faculty, staff and Boulder residents with identity and relationship issues every year, Bowen said.
“The passing of Civil Unions will bolster CU-Boulder’s commitment to provide a working and learning environment that is free of discrimination in all of its forms,” Bowen said.
Sophomore Anna Parma said she believes equality for gay people is generally agreed on in Boulder. Her friends either support gay marriage and civil unions or are not concerned with what they consider people’s private lives. She would like to see the civil unions bill signed by the governor.
“It wouldn’t be a problem to anyone other than if it personally disturbs them for some reason,” Parma said. “I just don’t see why it shouldn’t be okay.”
The Boulder College Democrats are in full support of the civil unions bill.
“This represents an important step forward not only for the state of Colorado, but the entire nation as yet another state has stepped forward and made a strong statement for equal rights,” said Ryan Langhorst, vice president of communications for Boulder College Democrats. “Whether they’re students or graduated, this will allow gay couples in Colorado … to take their relationship a step further.”
Applause erupted in the Capitol as the bill won final passage on a 39-26 House vote, with two Republicans joining all Democrats to approve the measure. Several dozen people watching from the House gallery left smiling and hugging, and some wiped away tears of joy.
Colorado’s measure grants gay couples rights similar to marriage, including enhanced inheritance and parental rights. People in civil unions also would have the ability to make medical decisions for their partners.
Once the measure is signed, Colorado will join eight states that have civil unions or similar laws. Nine states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage.
Last year, Democratic Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, a newly elected gay lawmaker, was among the spectators in the House gallery with his children, watching as Republicans used their one-vote majority in the House to prevent the measure from being debated in the waning hours of the session, thus killing the bill.
“I sat with my kids at midnight, wondering what was going to happen the next time we had a tragedy. What would happen if I had to take my kids to the ER and then I was questioned whether or not I was really their dad,” said Ulibarri, one of eight gay Democratic lawmakers serving in the Colorado Legislature.
Civil unions for gay couples became a rallying cry for Democrats who took control of the Colorado House in last year’s elections, and they vowed an early vote on the proposal.
“Elections have consequences,” said Republican Rep. Frank McNulty, the former House speaker.
Democrats now control both chambers of the Legislature, and the party elected Colorado’s first gay House speaker, Mark Ferrandino.
“The people spoke in November, and we are fulfilling a promise we made at the end of last session,” Ferrandino said Tuesday.
The vote marks a dramatic political shift in Colorado, a western state with deep conservative roots that has become more moderate over the past decade. In 1992, Colorado voters approved a ban on municipal antidiscrimination laws to protect gays. Four years later, the U.S. Supreme Court said the law, known as Amendment 2, was unconstitutional, but not before some branded Colorado a “hate state.”
And in 2006, voters approved a gay-marriage ban — meaning civil unions are the only option for gay couples in the state for now. That could change with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage bans in the coming months.
Republicans opposed the bill, saying they would’ve liked to see religious exemptions to provide legal protections for those opposed to civil unions.
“I have long-standing concerns about the way in which religion isn’t tolerated by some down here at the state Capitol,” McNulty said. “I continue to have those concerns.”
Democrats contend the Republican suggestions to amend the bill would have opened the door to discrimination. Under the bill, churches are not required to perform civil unions, but Republicans wanted broader protections to include businesses and adoption agencies.
Republicans also argued civil unions were too similar to marriage, and that they would undermine the institution of marriage.
“Civil unions are not marriage. They are something that are separate, and distinct, and lesser, and unequal,” Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman said. “And that really is not good enough. We passed this bill because this is the best we can do.”
When asked, five of the eight gay Democratic lawmakers said after the vote that they would get civil unions. It was a difficult question for Steadman, whose longtime partner, Dave Misner, died of cancer last year.
“Some of us don’t get that opportunity,” Steadman said.
Contributions from the Associated Press included in this report.
Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Alison Noon at Alison.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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