12 March 2013

Civil Unions Bill Headed To Governor In Colorado

The Colorado General Assembly has passed a civil unions bill (Senate Bill 11) which is headed to Governor Hickenlooper who is sure to sign the bill.  It was passed without any amendments in the state house.  The bill affords same sex couples (or opposite sex couples who choose to have a civil union rather than a marriage) virtually all of the legal protections and rights and obligations of marriage.

The bill will become law on May 1, 2013 (assuming that Governor Hickenlooper signs it later this month as expected), with Colorado then becoming the eighteenth state to have same sex marriage or civil unions (except that one provision relating to health insurance coverage takes effect January 1, 2014).

State Constitutionally Rooted Limitations

A state constitutional amendment adopted in a 55-45 vote in 2006 prohibited the Colorado General Assembly from passing a same sex marriage bill without a state constitutional amendment approved by voters, which is likely to be proposed in the near future. The bill also does not authorize civil union members to file joint income tax returns at the state level because the Colorado state constitution provides is derivative of federal tax laws.  The lack of full marriage status could matter for a variety of federal law purposes, such as immigration laws and federal tax laws.

Legislative Supporters

The bill was sponsored by State House Speaker Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver) and State Senator Pat Steadman (D-Denver), both of whom are gay men who have represented me in the Colorado General Assembly in the past (I've since moved and am no longer in either man's district).  I served on the vacancy committee that elected Steadman."  There are currently five gay or lesbian representatives out of sixty-five in the state house and three gay or lesbian senators out of thirty-five in the state senate in Colorado (all of whom are Democrats), a reasonable approximation of the proportion of Coloradoans who are gay or lesbian.

Republicans killed civil unions bills in two previous legislative sessions (as detailed here).  Twenty-six out of the twenty-eight Republicans in the state house voted against this bill this year.  In the state senate this year, fourteen out of fifteen Republicans voted against the bill.  Thus, the bill won the votes of 63% of state house lawmakers and 60% of state senators in addition to the support of Governor Hickenlooper, a Democrat.  All of the Democrats in the Colorado General Assembly and three Republican women (Representatives Cheri Gerou of Evergreen and Carole Murray of Castle Rock, and Senator Jean White of Hayden) voted for the bill.

White cited support for a gay niece and nephew in her part of the floor debate.  My current State Senator Linda Newell (D-Littleton) whose bumber sticker graces my car, said this vote was for her gay brother Bill who didn't come out until he was fifty years old.

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