DENVER – The state Senate passed the civil unions bill Monday on a 21 – 14 vote with state Sen. Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) joining the Democrat majority. The bill passed quietly– unlike the impassioned three-hour debate on second reading last week.
Republican opponents argued that the bill, if passed by the House and signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper, would result in costly legal challenges that will test its constitutionality.
Several Republican senators argued that the civil unions bill opens the door to same-sex marriage. But, Democrat Senators said it’s a civil rights measure. Meanwhile members of Colorado MoveOn.org are circulating a petition to repeal Amendment 43 that defines marriage as only between one man and one woman.
“Are we ready to pass civil unions at a time when many in our state are ready for something bigger and more bold?” asked State Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver), a sponsor of Senate Bill 11, in a speech that equated the treatment of gay couples to discrimination against minorities on Friday.
“Senate Bill 11 is for those of you who are lucky to have someone, to love someone, and who are lucky enough to find that person,” said Steadman. “Someone that you will share the rest of your with. Someone to have and to hold… in sickness and in health… until death do you part.”
Most of the Republican senators opposed the bill, and said it conflicts with the statewide voters’ approval of Amendment 43 that recognizes marriage only between a man and a woman, and their rejection of a civil-unions ballot initiative in 2006.
Democrats argued that polls show the voters’ sentiments have changed 180 degrees; however, they ignored Republicans who challenged them to put the question of same-sex unions to the voters again.
Steadman said that though some would argue that civil unions is a marriage bill, it does not have the special recognition of common law marriage afforded to heterosexual couples.
Civil unions, he said “must be licensed. You must fill out the forms. You must pay a fee to some pointy-head little bureaucrat behind a county clerk’s counter.”
Steadman said the issue is abhorrent to Republican opponents, based on religious beliefs, who “would rather have the gays stay far to the back of the bus – far, far away.”
“There are bakeries that don’t want to sell cakes to (gay couples). There are florists that don’t want to sell roses, restaurants that don’t want to them to sit at their counters, banquet halls… that say it violates their religious liberty to rent a facility,” asserted Steadman. “We can’t serve them, they claim.”
The argument, he said, is always about a cake baker, florist, photographer or banquet hall rental, but never about a jeweler.
“They’ll always be there to sell you an expensive ring,” said Steadman, who added there are “no petty arguments over service” when it comes to selling gold, platinum and diamonds.
Opponents, he said, claim their First Amendment rights protecting religious freedom are threatened.
“God told me to hate you – or at least hate your sin,” said Steadman of opposing Republican lawmakers. But, he asked, should religion “decide who gets served and who gets left out? I don’t think so.”
To those who oppose civil unions, Steadman advised, “Get thee to a nunnery and live there. Go live a monastic life away from our society, away from the people you can’t see as equals to yourselves… Go somewhere and be as judgmental as you’d like.”
“But don’t claim that free exercise of religion requires the state of Colorado to establish separate water fountains for citizens,” he said. “We are tearing down barriers – not erecting them.”
“We are offering inclusion and equal protection of the law,” declared Steadman.
Missing from this year’s bill was a provision to exempt from civil rights protection the services provided by those of faith-based beliefs, including adoption agencies, ministers, counselors and others.
State Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) supported an amendment to restore that provision to ensure that a religious entity would not be forced to provide services contrary to sincerely held religious beliefs which are protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
But, Steadman argued that the bill’s amendment is “a threat to justice everywhere” because there is a “vast list characters” that would discriminate against gays on the basis of religion.
“You will serve the public without discrimination,” declared Steadman. “That’s the law in Colorado.”
State Sen. Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs) said the government does not, for example, have the right to tell Jews and Muslims that they must sell pork which is considered to be unholy in their religious faiths, but SB 11 would strip those freedom of religion rights.
“The bill sponsor said if you don’t like it, leave society,” said Lambert of Steadman’s remarks. “Go to a heritage, got a nunnery. Get out!”
“That doesn’t sound like inclusion to me,” said Lambert. “It sounds like the power of the state – if you disagree with this, you can get out.”
“This bill has criminal sanction. If you do not comply, you will go to jail. We will criminalize your behavior,” said Lambert.
Republican lawmakers made six attempts to amend the bill, including the religious exemption and deferring the measure to a statewide ballot initiative vote before the bill, if passed, would be signed into law. All were defeated.