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Civil Union Bill Gets First Vote In Colorado

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Colorado State Capitol (credit: CBS)

Colorado State Capitol (credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – A proposal granting gay couples rights similar to married couples was expected to pass its first vote from Colorado lawmakers on Wednesday after hours of testimony that was at times emotional.

A Senate committee was hearing 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 are saying about 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 an 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 opposes the bill and will be voting against it in committee Wednesday. He said he knows gay rights groups may push for same-sex marriage later, depending on what the U.S. Supreme Court rules when it considers arguments in the coming months on California’s gay marriage ban.

“I will continue to push back against those powers that want gay marriage in Colorado.”

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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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Brad Clark, the executive director of One Colorado, which has been pushing for civil unions, said the issue is no longer controversial for many people.

“You know these couples and you know their families. They’re your friends, your neighbors, your family members, your colleagues, and your fellow legislators.”

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Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink, the group’s policy arm, opposes the bill, arguing that civil unions seek to redefine marriage. CitizenLink spokeswoman Carrie Gordon Earll says her group knows the measure will pass, and they’re paying attention to what happens next.

“It would seem if you count votes that the outcome of this is already decided. What we will be watching for right now is what the U.S. Supreme Court does this summer.”

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Euell Santistevan, 17, urged lawmakers to send the right message to their young constituents.

“Please do not tell the youth of Colorado they are second-class citizens, just because they’re gay.”

- 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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