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Colorado House debates civil unions for gay couples

DENVER (AP) — Civil unions for gay couples got the debate Monday in the Colorado House that it never received last session when a Republican filibustered the measure — and this time the result of the bill is all but a forgone conclusion with Democrats in control.

“It’s about love, it’s about family, and it’s about equality under the law,” said Democratic House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, the first openly gay lawmaker to hold that post in Colorado.

The measure was expected to advance on a preliminary voice vote after Monday’s debate, setting up a final vote this week that will send the bill to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is expected to sign it.

The bill was one of the most contentious measures of last year’s session. Democrats had enough votes to pass it, but Republicans in the House prevented debate to defeat the proposal. That prompted Hickenlooper to call a special session to take up civil unions on other bills that died with the House GOP filibuster. Republicans voted down the bill in special session.

Republicans have argued that the bill is too similar to marriage and point out that voters banned same-sex marriage in 2006. They’ve also tried to amend the bill to include religious exemptions for those opposed to civil unions.

“Those religious values, the highest of all values, in my mind, are important,” said El Paso County Republican Rep. Bob Gardner.

Democrats said allowing religious exemptions to deny some services for couples in civil unions opens the door to discrimination.

Ferrandino harkened back to 1992 when Colorado voters approved a ban on municipal anti-discrimination 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.”

“We have a horrible history with Amendment 2 in this state. And I don’t think we want to go back to that,” Ferrandino said.

Civil unions would grant gay couples rights similar to marriage, including enhanced inheritance and parental rights, among others. They would also have the ability to make medical decisions for their partners.

More than a dozen states allow either civil unions or gay marriage.

The meltdown over civil unions last year became a rallying cry for gay rights activists who targeted Republicans in swing districts to try to upend the GOP’s one-vote majority in the House. Democrats now have a 37-28 advantage in the House, and they retained control of the Senate after November’s elections.


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