A proposal to create civil unions for homosexual and unmarried heterosexual couples failed to advance through the Republican-controlled Colorado House Judiciary Committee by a party line vote of 6-5.
The March 31 vote came after eight hours of testimony, and rallies by opponents and supporters on the opposite sides of the state capitol building.
Opponents of the bill, including Catholics, held a noontime prayer vigil outside. Auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley of Denver attended the event, as did a contingent of evangelical Christians from Colorado Springs.
Vigil attendee Christian Brugger told 9 News they opposed the bill “mainly because we believe marriage matters and this bill will assign civil benefits to couples of same-sex unions as if they were married.” He characterized the bill as “an end around” to circumvent a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman.
Supporters of the legislation on the other side of the capital waved rainbow-colored flags and said the bill was about “equality.” Attendees included Denver mayoral candidates Michael Hancock, Doug Linkhart and Carol Boigon.
The proposed legislation would grant “the legal benefits, protections, and responsibilities that are granted under the law to spouses” to both same-sex and heterosexual civil unions for unrelated individuals. The state already recognizes a Designated Beneficiary Agreement which provides certain rights and responsibilities including hospital visitation, medical decision making and inheritance.
“In my mind this issue is simple. Everyone should have civil rights,” Rep. Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver), a sponsor of the bill who is homosexual, told 9 News. “Whatever the outcome is, know this: civil unions are not a matter of if. It's a matter of when.”
The bill was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee but the motion to send it to the Appropriations Committee failed.
“I believe that to change the definition of marriage in Colorado law is not the right way to go,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) who voted against the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Denver Post reports.
The civil unions legislation has already passed the Senate by a vote of 23-12. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper supports civil unions and same-sex “marriage.”
The state’s Republicans have a bare majority of 33-32 in the House. Proponents of the bill claimed to have enough votes to pass in a full floor vote.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, in his March 2 column for the Denver Catholic Register, said that civil unions are “essentially marriage under another name” and that the long-term impact of the legislation has not been fully discussed.
“How this legislation will impact Catholic ministries and the benefits the Church affords to her employees are very real concerns,” he wrote.
“Attempts to redefine marriage, whether direct or indirect, only serve to weaken the already difficult family structure of our society,” he said.
Colorado voters defeated a ballot measure to create civil unions in 2006.