07 May 2012

Colorado Civil Unions Bill On The Brink

Colorado's Civil Unions bill (SB 2) could go either way this legislative session, which ends on Wednesday. The bill would make it possible for same sex couples to have a union which would carry all rights and responsibilities of marriage under state law, but not the name (something that can't be done without a state constitutional amendment). It would be a major step forward for Colorado, which has a number of means by which same sex couples can secure some legal rights for each other, but not all of the rights afforded by marriage and not with the same level of simplicity.

It isn't yet clear if federal law, which is close to recognizing same sex marriages now that the Obama Administration is no longer actively defending challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), would treat same sex marriages and civil unions identically, or only afford federal law rights to same sex marriages.

SB 2 has cleared the State Senate and both the Judiciary and Finance committees in the State House. As of Friday, when it cleared the House Finance Committee, it still needed to make it out of the House Appropriations Committee today (the appropriations would be minimal) or perhaps early Tuesday morning, to have a second reading on the floor of the House tomorrow (the stage at which amendments are considered), so that it could have a final third reading vote on its passage on Wednesday, in order to be sent to the Governor in 2012 (who would sign the bill).

The bill is sponsored by my pre-redistricting State Senator (Pat Steadman) and my post-redistricting State Representative (Mark Ferrandino), both of whom are gay men.

The State House has as 33 Republican-32 Democrat split, and two Republicans have voted for the bill in committee. So it is likely clear that if the bill makes it to a floor of the state house for a second reading tomorrow, that it will become law.  But, either the appropriations committee, or the House leadership by declining to put the bill on the calendar for consideration on Tuesday if it passes the appropriations committee, could kill the bill. Both the House Appropriations Committee chair and the House's Republican leadership are signaling (and again today) that they may try to prevent the bill from receiving a final vote this legislative session.

Absent intervention from Governor Hickenlooper, who has a track record of changing minds in clinch situations, the odds a good that the bill will run out of time this session.

There is a good chance that Democrats will secure control of the state house again in the 2012 elections, so a defeat in this session, may portend a one year delay in passage of a civil unions bill, rather than its ultimate failure. Both of the bill's sponsors will almost certainly still be in the legislature in 2013.

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