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Colorado House approves civil-unions bill

DENVER – The Colorado House voted 39-26 today to approve civil unions in a second and final reading of the bill, and will now go to the Governor’s Office to be signed into law.

The bill’s approval was all but assured because the Colorado Legislature and the Governor’s Office are now under the control of Democrats.

On Feb. 11, the Senate voted 21-14 in favor of civil unions.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, pushed for a vote on civil unions and is expected to sign the bill in March. The civil-unions law will go into effect on May 1.

Colorado will be the ninth state to have civil unions or a similar law.

For LGBT activists and allies, it’s been a long seven years since voters decided to ban same-sex marriage. Last year, the civil-unions bill died in the House because the Speaker, a Republican, denied a vote even though there was enough support for passage. Angry voters took their revenge, giving Democrats control over the House and electing openly gay state Rep. Mark Ferrandino as Speaker.

Supporters of the bill included state Rep. Dominick Moreno, who said during today's debate it represents his story. He said LGBT families are just as deserving of legal protections as all Colorado families.

Rep. Joann Ginal said “the time has come” for equality for all.

Rep. Rosenthal supported the bill because of the impact it would have. “This is not just a message to Colorado, but a message to the world.”

Several lawmakers, include Rep. Joe Salazar, cited the tragic murder of Matthew Shepard and noted “how far we’ve come together” in accepting the LGBT community.

Opponents complained that the bill would “overturn the will of voters” or would infringe on religious rights.

The Colorado Civil Union Act will provide gay and straight couples the legal benefits, protections and responsibilities that are granted to married spouses under Colorado state law.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, Colorado becomes the 18th state – plus Washington, DC – to offer comprehensive benefits and obligations to same-sex couples. Nine states (Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington) and Washington, DC issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. And as of May 1, nine states (California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island) provide the equivalent of state-level spousal rights to same-sex couples within the state.

The reaction

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign:

“The Colorado legislature has taken a definitive step forward in the march toward equality. The passage of civil unions in the Centennial State is further proof that full equality for committed and loving gay and lesbian couples is in sight. From now on LGBT couples in Colorado will no longer be legal strangers in the eyes of their state, but rather recognized and supported by the law.”

Jennifer Pizer, Lambda Legal's Law and Policy Project director"

"Another state has taken an important step forward in recognizing and protecting same-sex couples and their families. We congratulate the bill's sponsors - State Sen. Pat Steadman and Colorado House Speaker Mark Ferrandino - as well as One Colorado and the many other advocates and elected officials who fought so hard to secure this legal recognition. We have received a great many calls over the years at Lambda Legal from LGBT Coloradans seeking help and advice on how they can protect their families. This bill goes a long way towards making that protection a reality.

"With the expected signature of Gov. Hickenlooper, nine states - including Rhode Island and Illinois - allow same-sex couples to obtain all or nearly all of the state-law rights, benefits and responsibilities of marriage by entering a civil union or domestic partnership. In addition, there now are nine states plus the District of Columbia where same-sex couples are free to marry, and marriage bills supported by their respective governors are moving through the legislatures of Illinois and Rhode Island. That's 18 states in this country plus the nation's capital where same-sex couples are visible, have meaningful protection under the law, and can live their lives with greater security. Even in very conservative states like Texas and Wyoming, more and more legislators have decided it is time to push for change because - for all committed couples - the law should help, not hinder, those trying to support and protect their loved ones.

"Of course civil unions and domestic partnerships, no matter how complete the package of protections, are not marriage. True equality is the freedom to marry the one you love and be included under the same laws as your neighbors. It is time to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage, and Lambda Legal and many others will continue to fight for that goal."