DENVER State senators took the first step toward legalizing civil unions for gay and lesbian couples Monday.
Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, joined five Democrats to vote for Senate Bill 172, which would give gays and lesbians many of the same rights that state law grants to married couples.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved it on a 6-3 vote.
The bill adds rights and responsibilities to couples of any gender who enter into a civil union, including the rights to inherit property, adopt children, get insurance and retirement benefits if one partner works for the state, visits partners in the hospital and makes medical decisions.
It also adds responsibilities for breaking up a civil union, including child support and visitation rights.
Roberts said many of the rights in the bill already exist, but the moral and legal responsibilities to children do not yet exist in law.
As a lawyer who handles estate law, she has worked with gay and lesbian couples.
I saw no difference between the love and commitment that existed between these couples than what existed between heterosexual couples, Roberts said.
Committee members mostly sat quietly during more than three hours of emotional testimony.
We live as second-class citizens in Colorado because of who we are, said Fran Simon, who testified with her partner of eight years, Anna Simo n.
Anna Simon said she had to undergo an FBI background check to get court approval to change her name, and she worries that if Fran ever had a medical emergency, she might lose precious time waiting for hospital workers to let her in.
This is the person who held my hand through every pre-natal appointment and every minute of a 10-hour labor. ... Why do I worry that I could miss the last 10 minutes of her life in an emergency room because the facts hadnt arrived yet? she asked.
Opponents objected mostly on religious grounds.
Pastor Roger Anghis of Prevailing Word Ministries in Littleton called the bill acceptance of a deviant debauchery and a laughingstock in the eyes of God.
American society is based on the family. The family has always been one man and one woman. It will never be anything else, Anghis said.
Colorado voters defeated a similar plan in 2006, the same election in which they passed Amendment 43, which limits marriage to one man and one woman.
Father Bill Carmody of Colorado Springs said SB 172 is basically the same as the question voters defeated. He worried that if it passed, heterosexual couples would choose civil unions over marriage.
This is not good for marriage. This is not good for children. This is not good for society at large, Carmody said.
A gay couple who married in California also spoke against the bill.
Civil unions are a separate and unequal status for gays, Gabe Martinez said.
If we ever try to remove Amendment 43, the public will not be sympathetic because in their minds they will have already equated civil unions with marriage, Martinez said.
The sponsor, Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said civil unions differ a lot from marriage because they do not grant the more than 1,100 rights under federal law that married couples get.
Steadmans bill already has support from all 20 Democratic senators, all but ensuring it will pass the Senate. Its future prospects in the Republican-controlled House are not as clear.
Mondays vote sends SB 172 to the Senate Finance Committee for another hearing.