Civil Union Act should pass in CO House if not blocked by extremists, says Sen. Pat Steadman
Update below: Today, in all likelihood, SB 172, intended to legalize civil unions in Colorado, will be okayed by the state senate, following debate yesterday that warmed the heart of its sponsor, Senator Pat Steadman. Next, however, the bill must be approved by the Republican-controlled House, where he thinks it will pass, too -- but only if legislators who know it's the correct thing to do are brave enough to stand up for their convictions, he maintains.
"It was very gratifying yesterday to deliver such a compelling, persuasive and often emotional argument for something that's really a matter of basic civil rights and fairness," Steadman says. "And the fact that the opponents just got up there and whined about marriage and the family and some hypothetical threat to family values in the future I think really showed who has right on their side."
Among those critics was Senator Kevin Lundberg, who noted that in 2006, Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman and rejected a domestic partnerships measure. The implication? By approving the Civil Union Act, legislators would be defying the views of most Coloradans.
To that, Steadman responds, "They say you never step in the same river twice -- and I don't think you ever put a question before the same electorate twice. Colorado isn't the same as it was in November 2006. People have grown, people have learned. We've all had experiences with individuals in our own lives or seen the progress of this issue in other states across the country. Public opinion has rapidly evolved."
A photo from One Colorado, which supports civil unions.
Given the tenor of the debate yesterday, will some House Republicans be afraid of coming across as biased if they oppose the bill? "If that's what they were worried about, they should be ashamed about what happened in the Senate Judiciary Committee a few weeks ago," Steadman replies, referencing a hearing that featured a woman who went on at length about how nature put a tight sphincter on the anus as a message to keep out.
"I don't think that bothers them," Steadman continues, pointing out that "I'm speaking to opponents generally. But political leaders of the House are, I think, very bothered by this. They're struggling between extremes in their party."
Indeed, he says, "I think you would be surprised at how many votes we would get if this came to the floor of the House. But I also think some people who might actually be in favor of this personally think politically it's too risky for them."
In his mind, then, the bill's biggest challenge may be simply getting it out of committee -- the stage prior to reaching the full Senate. Regarding this step, Steadman calls himself "cautiously optimistic... because I think courage is winning out."
Update, 12:45 p.m. March 24: As expected, the Civil Union Act passed the Colorado Senate today. Here's a release from the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign commending the legislature for its actions. Immediately thereafter, page down to read SB 172 in its entirety, as well as to see a video and news release dating back to the bill's introduction from One Colorado, a civil-unions backer.
Human Rights Campaign release:
Colorado Senate Passes Civil Unions Bill
The bill will next be considered by the House of Representatives
WASHINGTON --Today, The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, commends the Colorado Senate for passing a comprehensive civil unions bill. The legislation passed by a 23 to 12 vote, and now moves to the House of Representatives.
"Legislators in Colorado have taken an important action to advance equality for all Coloradans," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "We call on the Colorado House to swiftly follow the Senate's lead on this crucial legislation."
SB 127, introduced by Senator Pat Steadman, would allow both same-sex and opposite-sex couples to enter into civil unions giving couples all of the rights, benefits, and obligations of marriage under state law, but would not allow same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses.
Currently, five states have laws providing an expansive form of state-level relationship recognition for same-sex couples, without offering marriage. California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington provide same-sex couples with access to almost of all the state level benefits and responsibilities of marriage, through either civil unions or domestic partnerships. Earlier this year, the governors of Hawaii and Illinois signed into law civil unions bills. Couples in Illinois can begin applying for civil union licenses on June 1, 2011 and in Hawaii couples can begin applying on Jan. 1, 2012.
Same-sex couples do not receive federal rights and benefits in any state. For an electronic map showing relationship recognition in the states, please visit: www.HRC.org/State_Laws.
The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.