Bill introduced for civil unions for same-sex couples

Will Cupid get McNulty’s heart on this issue?
The Colorado Statesman

State Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, on Monday introduced a bill to establish civil unions in Colorado, creating a state-sanctioned relationship for same-sex couples. And because the legislation debuted on Valentine’s Day, a supporter of the bill dressed as Cupid delivered construction-paper “links of love” to legislators during the lunch hour, meant to demonstrate support from around the state for the proposal.

“Civil unions will allow committed couples to share in the responsibilities and protections in Colorado law that most families take for granted,” Steadman said. “Our society is stronger when we promote personal responsibility and taking care of one another, and civil unions do just that.”

The legislation would grant couples of any gender the ability to enter into a civil union by purchasing a license from county clerks. It would establish inheritance, property and decision-making rights that are available under current law to married couples. The bill creates a legal framework for dissolving the unions, and religious officials are explicitly excluded from having to certify civil unions. (The state doesn’t require clergy to conduct marriages, either, the bill’s sponsors pointed out.)

Cupid, played by Cody Ortiz-Oldham, left, and ONE Colorado communications manager Jessica Woodrum, right, present “links of love” in support of a new civil unions bill on Valentine’s Day to state Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton, at the Capitol on Monday.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

The bill, Senate Bill 172, is guaranteed passage out of the Democratic-controlled Senate — all 20 of the chamber’s Democrats have signed on as sponsors — but its fate is less certain in the House, where Republicans hold a single-vote margin.

While the bill’s sponsors are confident they have enough GOP votes on the House floor, Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, the House sponsor, warned that the legislation could be assigned to an unfriendly committee and killed before allies have the chance to vote for it.

The office of the Republican who will assign the bill to a committee, House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, didn’t comment on the bill’s introduction this week.

Steadman said he thought the bill’s prospects were good.

“I’m not yet aware that anyone’s opposed to this bill,” he said on the Capitol steps, shortly after introducing the legislation.

Ferrandino added, “I haven’t seen anyone officially come out, and hopefully they’ll either stay neutral or support the bill, because it’s good for all families.”

Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, turned a cold shoulder to the proposal when Steadman began discussing it last month. His office didn’t respond to a request for comment this week.

“The people of Colorado have asked us to streamline government, cut regulatory burdens and create a more business-friendly environment in Colorado,” Kopp said in a statement in January. “They have not asked us to revisit the decision they made in 2006 where they voted down recognition of civil unions. While Democrats certainly have the freedom to introduce this legislation, the Senate Republicans will continue to focus on our agenda of limiting the size of government, public safety and promoting job growth.”

In 2006, Colorado voters approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage and shot down an initiative that would have created civil unions.

The Colorado Civil Union Act makes clear distinctions between the new legal relationship and marriage, its sponsors said. And as for the recent failure of a civil union ballot measure, Ferrandino said things are different now. “When you look at the polling data and how much it’s changed over the last five years, it’s a question of, is the Legislature ready to follow where the people are?”

Steadman and Ferrandino, who both sit on the Joint Budget Committee, batted back the suggestion their bill should be sidelined in the face of the state’s budget crisis.

“This session is focused on jobs, the economy and balancing the state budget, and obviously those are some of the most important issues before the state Legislature this year,” Steadman said. “But this is also an important issue. I don’t see this as a distraction from the more important topics the Legislature is dealing with.”

He said rights granted by the bill address economic concerns of Colorado families.

“These are important legal protections that no family should be without,” Steadman said. “It’s always the right time to protect people.”

Pointing to recent polling that shows 72 percent of Colorado voters support civil unions or gay marriage, Steadman said he didn’t see any reason to delay.

“I don’t know how much longer we’re supposed to wait. I think the time is now.”

The bill was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee for hearing.

Soon after Steadman introduced the bill, a winged Cupid bearing candy hearts delivered construction-paper chains to legislative offices. The chain links bore Valentine’s Day messages gathered from around the state by ONE Colorado, a gay civil rights group conducting a campaign to support the bill, “asking people to support all loving relationships,” said to Jessica Woodrum, the group’s communications manager.

Cody Ortiz-Oldham, who played Cupid, said she enjoyed wearing the costume and roaming the Capitol.

“This is my first time being Cupid,” she said. “It seemed like a good cause. It’s been a really, really exciting day, and the reaction from folks has been really awesome. I think sometimes showing that love is for everybody is a great way to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Cupid and her entourage found at least one ally among Republican House members.

“I certainly believe that love belongs to everyone,” said Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton, who added that a poll on the question on her website hasn’t been generating much comment yet.

“I don’t know if it’s a non-issue" among her constituents, she said. “The outpouring I’ve had so far from my town halls leads me to support it,” she said, adding that her position exhibits “a desire to be a representative of the people and for the people.”

Conti said the morning’s Valentine’s Day prayer sounded like an endorsement of the civil unions bill.

“Our prayer this morning was so kind and so gracious,” she said. “And his comment to me was straight out of the Scripture — ‘and the greatest of these is love,’ of all God gives us, ‘the greatest of these is love,’ and I think that kind of says it.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com