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House expected to OK civil unions

Bill is about love, family, equality, speaker says

DENVER – The Legislature is poised to pass a law creating civil unions for gay and lesbian couples today, after a Monday debate in the House.

It was the first time in three years of trying that the civil-unions bill made it to the floor of the House. Last year, Democratic supporters joined with two dissident Republicans to try to force a House vote on the second-to-last day of the session, but Republicans, who held the majority, shut down the House rather than allow a vote.

This week’s result was preordained on Election Day. The election saw Democrats take over the House, bringing with them Colorado’s first openly gay speaker of the House, Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, and three newly elected gay Democrats.

“This bill is about three simple things. It’s about love, it’s about family, and it’s about equality under the law,” said Ferrandino, who sponsored the bill this year and last year.

A civil union gives same-sex couples most of the same rights as married couples under state law, but not under federal law.

At least two Republicans say they will support the bill in today’s final vote.

But other Republicans spent several hours Monday fighting the bill or trying to send it to the voters for approval.

Republicans pushed unsuccessfully for exemptions for religious people in businesses and adoption agencies and county clerks’ offices to be able to refuse to serve same-sex couples.

Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono, said the bill would force people to violate their deeply held religious beliefs.

“What this bill is about, really, is the Bible – is it right or wrong?” Saine said.

Last year’s bill contained an exemption for religious adoption agencies. This year’s has no such exemption.

Ferrandino acknowledged that he included the exemption last year because he was in the minority and needed Republican votes. This year, he has more than enough votes to pass his bill without Republican help, and he said he does not want to allow for discrimination, even by adoption agencies.

Several Democrats exhorted Republicans to “be on the right side of history.”

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, led GOP opposition to civil unions and questions the history argument.

“Only history will decide. Only history will judge,” Gardner said.

With today’s vote and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s expected signature, Colorado will become the ninth state with a civil unions-style law. Another nine states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.

Ferrandino said he supports full marriage equality, but voters in 2006 amended the constitution to reserve marriage for heterosexual couples.

“For now, until the voters say otherwise, civil unions is the closest we can do in the General Assembly to make sure that all families, gay or straight, have equal protection under the law,” Ferrandino said.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

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