DENVER (AP/CBS4) – A civil union proposal advanced in the Colorado Senate on Wednesday as lawmakers tentatively approved a measure that would give gay couples legal protections similar to marriage.

The bill appears headed toward a real test in the GOP-controlled House.

Senators approved the civil union bill on an unrecorded voice vote after several lawmakers shared personal experiences to argue in favor of adopting legal protections for all unmarried couples and their children.

The Senate will take one more vote before the measure heads to the House, where a similar bill was rejected last year.

Colorado voters banned gay marriage through a constitutional amendment in a 2006. However, the provisions in the civil union bill could be enacted without a vote by the people.

Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, as he has in the past, argued for his civil union proposal, speaking from his perspective as a gay man in a committed relationship. Steadman held up thick, heavy books of Colorado law to illustrate how many legal protections are available only to married couples.

Steadman argued that boring nuts-and-bolts aspects of Colorado probate law make life unduly complicated for unmarried couples.

“Why is this so important?” Steadman asked. “It’s because life happens to people. People have babies. People adopt children. People have accidents. People end up in the hospital.”

Republican Sen. Nancy Spence argued for the measure, as well. Spence also has previously supported the bill.

“The Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, must continue to champion civil liberties,” Spence said.

Republican Sen. Scott Renfroe was one of the only voices questioning the measure. The Greeley Republican challenged Steadman’s argument that civil unions are distinct from gay marriage.

“What’s left that distinguishes marriage as marriage?” Renfroe asked.

The Senate rejected a proposed amendment from another Republican to give people “freedom of conscience” not to recognize same-sex unions.

“Are we not as human as you?” Steadman asked.

Speaker of the House Frank McNulty is the man who controls the fate of the bill. He decides which committee will hear it.

“I would say we’ve received hundreds of communications on either side of the issue,” McNulty said. “To me, on an issue that is as charged as this one, my goal is to treat in a way that’s fair and to look at appropriate committee assignment.”

House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino says both Democrats and Republicans are urging the speaker to give the bill a chance.

The civil union measure has simmered in the state Legislature since January. After one more vote in the Democratic Senate, the measure heads to the House, where it’s still unclear whether ruling Republicans will support the proposal in the final weeks of the 2012 session.

Last year, a similar bill failed by a single vote in a GOP House committee.

LINK: Senate Bill 2

– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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