Colo. civil unions not dead until session’s end, opponents warn

Colorado State Capitol Credit J Stephen Conn CC BY NC 20 CNA US Catholic News 5 4 12 The Colorado state capitol building. | J. Stephen Conn (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Though a Colorado House committee voted to kill a civil unions bill Monday night, the measure’s opponents have called for continued vigilance until the end of the legislature’s special session.

“The special session is not over, so we have to be vigilant and court our legislators to defend marriage,” Colorado Catholic Conference executive director Jennifer Kraska told CNA May 15.

She said the bill is still technically alive and cautioned that much can happen while the special session remains underway.

Kraska’s concerns were echoed by Carrie Gordon Earll, spokeswoman for the Focus on the Family policy organization Citizenlink, another bill opponent.

“As long as the legislature is in special session, defenders of marriage need to stay vigilant on this,” she said. “Procedural maneuvers and parliamentary tests to bring this bill up will no doubt be tried by supporters of civil unions.”

Earll encouraged voters to continue to communicate with legislators and “tell them it’s not too late to voice their support for marriage.”

The House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted against the bill by a 5-4 vote along party lines. If the bill had gone to the Republican-majority House floor, enough Republicans could have joined Democratic bill supporters for civil unions to pass into law.

The bill would grant the legal benefits, protections and responsibilities of spouses to any two unrelated people who contract a union. Though the bill is being promoted as a gay rights measure, opposite-sex couples who are not closely related can also contract a union.

The 2010 U.S. Census reported that households with same-sex partners make up between 0.6 and 0.8 percent of all households in Colorado.

Opponents of the civil unions bill gathered outside the state capitol building at noon on May 15 for a non-partisan rally sponsored by the Colorado Catholic Conference, Colorado Family Action and Citizenlink.

“When we heard there was going to be a special session to include civil unions, we wanted to have the opportunity for people to come to the capital to encourage their legislators to defend and protect marriage,” Citizenlink spokeswoman Earll told CNA before the May 15 rally.

“The civil unions bill is a vehicle by which gay activists who support same-sex marriage can file suit in federal court against Colorado’s marriage amendment, which was passed by 56 percent of voters in 2006.”

Although Colorado voters have affirmed the legal definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman, Earll said that in the last six years there has been an “incremental legal strategy” to undermine that decision.

Same-sex unions or similar laws that recognize these relationships are taken to courts which rule that same-sex couples already have marriage rights and therefore “same-sex marriage” must be recognized.

“In California we saw a federal judge in 2010 strike down California’s marriage amendment, very similar to Colorado’s, and usher in same-sex marriage,” Earll said. “We don’t want to see that happen here.”

While some contend that civil unions will not affect anyone else, Earll disagreed.

Once these unions are legally recognized they are used in combination with non-discrimination law to “try to silence and coerce photographers and caterers and churches who own private property into having to participate in same-sex ceremonies,” she said.

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“Those people are not protected in this bill, and we are very concerned about religious freedom being protected,” Earll stated.

The rally included several pastors and attendees from throughout the state. Some legislators are expected to greet the rally.

Earll said the rally organizers intend “to pray for God to move on the hearts of people to protect his design for sexuality and for family, and that is through the marriage of one man and one woman.”

She voiced some concern that the House committee vote may suppress turnout.

During the House’s regular session, the civil unions bill unexpectedly passed out of the House Judiciary Committee. Republicans filibustered the bill on May 8, leading House Speaker Frank McNulty to announce an impasse.

The civil unions bill and more than 30 other proposals died in committee.

On May 9, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper called for a special session to pass the civil unions bill and other proposed legislation. He characterized civil unions as a “civil rights issue.”

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While Speaker McNulty has faced criticism for the controversy surrounding the end of the House’s regular session, he charged that the governor and his allies caused gridlock by “pushing a last-minute, divisive attack on our traditional views on marriage for short term political gain.”

“They can’t defend their record of failed policies, so they have chosen instead to push and promote same-sex marriage. And that’s unfortunate. Because the hardworking families of this state don’t have the time, the inclination or the patience to pay for these election year political stunts,” he said in a statement.

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