DENVER (CBS4)– Civil unions are one step closer to law in Colorado as the bill moves forward in the state Senate where lawmakers took their first vote today. But it wasn’t without some debate.

Republicans wanted an exemption for businesses that object to gay civil unions on religious grounds. They introduced an amendment what became the subject of intense debate that dragged on for three hours.

Democrats wouldn’t bend on the issue and shut down efforts to alter the bill. It passed with the help of a Republican.

Debate often turned personal and at times, passionate.

“There are many of you here who I know love and respect me for who I am,” said Sen. Lucia Guzman, a Democrat representing Dist. 34.

“Let me just call it same-sex marriage because that’s what it is,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, a Republican.

Republicans tried to amend the bill to allow businesses to turn away gay couples on religious grounds.

“The justification heard for civil unions has always been to promote tolerance and even acceptance of the gay citizens of Colorado and the only way to honor that intent is to ensure tolerance and acceptance of those who hold strong religious convictions,” said Sen. Owen Hill, a Republican representing Colorado Springs.

Democrats shot down every attempt by Republicans to revise the bill. After nearly three hours of debate it passed with one Republican, Ellen Roberts, voting with the majority.

“As a Republican, while there is not a lot of Republican votes for the bill, in the building right now there are a lot of Republicans outside the building who think this is the right direction,” said Roberts, a Republican who represents Durango.

Other Republicans warn there will be legal challenges if the bill passes and insist that voters should decide the issue.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Pat Steadman, said he had waited long enough. His partner died of cancer last year.

Steadman, a Democrat representing Denver, said the bill is the reason he ran for office, “It’s very rewarding to know something I worked on for many years is this close to becoming reality.”

The bill heads to the state House next week where it died last year in an end-of-session political brawl.

This year, Democrats control both the House and the Senate.


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