Feb 212012
Authors: Jason Pohl

The debate in Denver continues to mount across party lines as lawmakers consider a bill that would give legal rights to same-sex couples across Colorado.

If passed and ultimately approved by the House, Senate Bill 2, known as the Colorado Civil Union Act, would extend legal rights to any two unmarried adults, allowing them to make legal, financial and medical decisions on each other’s behalf in a similar way married couples do now.

“This bill will strengthen families and protect children,” said Pat Steadman, D-Denver in an email to the Collegian. Steadman is sponsoring the bill for the second straight year.

“It is a matter of fairness and inclusion,” he added.

Early last week, the bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary committee and is expected to maintain support on the Senate floor. The real challenge will be when it enters the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where a similar effort was struck down in 2011.

This time around, though, the stakes are different. Constituent bases have changed, and some politicians are not seeking reelection. Additionally, the push of the younger voter-base continues to urge lawmakers to pass this type of bill.

Even Governor John Hickenlooper called for the passage of this type of legislation during the State of the State address last month.

“We expect it will be a tough fight,” said Mindy Barton, the legal director for the GLBT Community Center of Colorado in Denver.

As the debate heats up, supporters have recently acquired a new tool.

The Williams Institute, a California think-tank, released a study last week that said allowing same-sex marriage in Colorado could generate nearly $5 million for the state over the first three years. These funds, they say, would come from licenses, lodging and a shifting use of public benefits around the state.

Supporters have stressed this chance for revenue, in addition to the equal rights, makes a strong case for civil unions.

But not everyone remains convinced.

Senator Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, remains outspoken against same-sex marriage legislation in Colorado. He has repeatedly stressed that the voters decided in 2006 to ban gay marriage. Though technically titled civil unions, he said this acts as a marriage bill.

“I expect the results will be similar to last year, and I’m opposing it as I did last year,” he said.

Lundberg explained the bill is a “radical change” for the social policy of the state –– something he doesn’t think Colorado or the nation is ready for. If it were time to change it, he said it should be up to voters on the November ballot.

“If they think they can push this onto the people despite their wishes … I think they are mistaken,” he said.

Barton, however, disagreed and said the elected officials were voted in to make these sorts of decisions on behalf of the public.

“We’re talking about issues of equal rights,” Barton said. “Many times in history, the majority will may not support the rights of the minority.”

More than a dozen states have approved similar same-sex legislation. Most recently, Washington state signed the new rights into law last week.

“It’s about respecting couple’s wishes and their decisions to take care of one another,” Barton said.

From here, the Colorado Civil Unions Act must clear the House Judiciary Committee — the same group that shot it down last year on a party-line vote. The measure will need at least some Republican support in order to stay alive for upcoming discussion.

Though the outcome remains uncertain, everyone involved sees the attitudes within the political landscape are changing –– something even those opposed to the bill say may lead to different results in the future.

“Where it will be 10 to 15 years from now, I don’t know,” Lundberg said. “It will only be accepted when the people of this state and of this nation truly agree, and I don’t see the evidence of that yet.”

Senior Reporter Jason Pohl can be reached at news@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 1:28 pm

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