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Civil Unions Get Initial OK In Colorado

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An image from the Capitol on Wednesday (credit: CBS)

An image from the Capitol on Wednesday (credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – A proposal granting gay couples rights similar to married couples got initial approval from Colorado Democratic senators Wednesday after hours of testimony that was at times emotional.

A Senate committee voted 3-2 to advance the bill, with Republicans opposing. The vote came after lawmakers heard hours of testimony from gay couples and supporters of traditional marriage on the civil unions legislation. It’s the first of several votes before the bill could become law.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully the last two years to pass civil unions. House Republicans have previously defeated the measure, but Democrats now control the Legislature and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to sign the bill.

Here’s what people said leading up to the vote:

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Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, a Democrat, said government should not legislate whom people can love. He recalled the last moments of the life of his brother, who was gay, and the shame that same-sex couples sometimes feel.

“As I sat and watched the life of my brother slip away, one of the things that he shared with me in his final moments was that he had in the room with him his partner, who loved him dearly and who he loved as well.”

He said that it was in that moment the he “saw the tragedy and embarrassment of my brother’s partner” because they were uncomfortable sharing their love openly.

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Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, the bill sponsor and openly gay lawmaker, said he would prefer to have marriage for gay couples but the state constitution doesn’t allow it. He said civil unions are the next best thing to marriage.

“In my estimation, the key issue for Senate Bill 11, is recognizing the love between committed couples. And when two people are fortunate enough to have found someone that they want to share the rest of their lives with, why should the state of Colorado stand in their way?”

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Attorney Kellie Fiedorek, with Alliance Defending Freedom, which opposes the measure, said she’s concerned that the legislation violates people’s religious beliefs. She cited as an example a photographer in New Mexico who refused to shoot a same-sex wedding because of her beliefs and was later sued.

“It’s important to note that it’s not a belief about homosexual behavior, it’s a belief that marriage is between one man and one woman and should be protected and strengthened by society, not undermined. Yet where these laws are enacted, people of faith are being persecuted, often forced to suffer economic loss.”

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Republican Sen. Steve King voted against the bill. During the hearing, King said lawmakers need to represent their constituents who oppose civil unions, and who voted previously to ban gay marriage. He asked why supporters of the bill don’t let voters decide the measure.

“Why not take it to the ballot again then?”

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Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg also opposes the bill, and raised concerns that the legislation is too similar to traditional marriage. Colorado voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 banning same-sex marriage.

“One of the things that I think is Orwellian double-speak is to say this isn’t marriage and then to go on and be a carbon copy and mirror of marriage in Colorado law.”

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Rookie Democratic Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, who chaired the hearing before the vote, recalled how he testified in favor the bill the last two years with his partner. He remembered being disappointed when the bill failed last year when House Republicans used a filibuster to run out the clock on the legislation.

“My family and I sat on the sidelines, we sat on the floor of the House. I was eager to have my family with me, our little girl and our little boy sitting on my lap, hoping that we would have basic legal protections.”

- By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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