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Split GOP Leaves Civil Unions Effort In Limbo

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(credit: ThinkStock)

(credit: ThinkStock)

DENVER (AP) – Some Colorado Republicans argue that allowing same-sex civil unions will underscore the party’s commitment to individual rights and help party recruitment.

But they have a battle ahead of them with fellow Republicans to win a renewed effort to enact such a law.

Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, who introduced a civil union bill last year that failed, wants a Republican sponsor for another try in the GOP-led House. He doesn’t expect to find one soon, in part because Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty opposes such unions.

A civil unions bill is expected to be introduced Wednesday in the Democrat-led state Senate and is likely to be passed in that chamber. Democrats say they have enough votes in the House to pass the bill if all members vote. But for that to happen, it has to be approved by a committee controlled by Republicans who rejected it last year.

The civil unions bill was one of the most emotional issues of the 2010 Legislature. Same-sex couples and lawmakers, including the gay sponsors of the legislation, made poignant, sometimes tearful pleas for the bill to pass, saying it was a matter of equal rights.

The bill easily passed the Senate but failed in the House committee on a party-line vote. Colorado voters banned gay marriage and rejected a domestic partnerships referendum in 2006.

Some lawmakers have been pushing legislation that would give same-sex couples rights similar to those of married couples, including the ability to be involved in their partner’s medical decisions. It also would enhance inheritance and parental rights and make it easier for a couple to list each other as dependents on health insurance.

About a dozen states allow either civil unions or same-sex marriage. Civil union laws took effect this month in Hawaii and Delaware.

Troy Ard, state chair of the Colorado Federation of College Republicans, argues that embracing civil unions would affirm the GOP’s commitment to individual liberty and limited government.

Ard, 23, said his organization was demoralized by last year’s outcome, which become an obstacle to expanding the GOP base among college students.

“They don’t want to be seen as supporting a party that’s archaic,” Ard said during a reception at the home of former Republican House Speaker Chuck Berry for a group called Coloradans for Freedom.

The group, which includes current and former lawmakers and strategists, supports civil unions. GOP lawmakers who could vote on a bill this year didn’t attend the reception.

“This is a freedom issue and that’s why I’m here,” said Rob Witwer, a Republican and former Colorado lawmaker. “I don’t agree with it, but they need to understand that we are coming to our belief on this issue from a conservation perspective as well, and that is respect for liberty and respect for freedom.”

“I don’t want to call it a maturing because it’s actually a return to the roots,” added Republican state Sen. Ellen Roberts, who voted for the bill last year.

McNulty, however, said his party must focus on the economy this session.

“I support traditional marriage,” he said. “I would vote against civil unions.”

Sean Duffy, who served as deputy chief of staff for former Republican Gov. Bill Owens, said the party’s stance has isolated voters.

“Politically, I think a lot of gays and lesbians tend to relate a lot with Republican issues,” he said. “They’re with us, and yet they have often felt excluded by Republicans.”

By Ivan Moreno, Associated Press

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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