Colorado House committee approves civil-unions bill

A Colorado House committee dominated by Republicans approved a civil-unions bill just a year after the same committee rejected the measure. The bill, which cleared the committee with a 6-5 vote, would offer legal protections similar to those of marriage to gay Colorado couples.

The bill faces two more committee votes before landing on the House floor for approval. But bill sponsors remain optimistic that they have enough support and momentum to have the bill clear the House and land on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk by the end of the month. The measure has already passed the Senate and Hickenlooper has promised to sign the bill.  Colorado would join more than a dozen other states with similar bills and protections.

“My hope just shot through the roof. I feel like I’m sitting in the middle of an amazing place in history,” Cristina Aguilar, a gay-rights activist from Denver, told The Associated Press.

Rep. Mark Ferrandino, the openly gay Democrat and sponsor of the bill, said before the vote that he wanted equal rights and protections for himself and other gay and lesbian couples. He asked that the Republican chairman overseeing the House Judiciary Committee grant gays and lesbians equal protection in the law.

Republican Rep. B.J. Nikkel was the deciding swing vote and she voted against the bill last year. She said her change of heart came after hearing the crowd of gay couples who shared painful stories of the impact that the inequality in the law had on them and their families.

“I was looking over the crowd and thinking, ‘These are all folks that deserve to be treated equally,’” Nikkel said.

Opponents contended that civil unions harm traditional marriage and that voters expressed their position when they banned same-sex marriage in 2006 with a ballot initiative. Byron Babione, a representative from the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative group, said civil unions are “marriage without the name.”

However, gay couples asked for the committee to vote in favor of the bill to support families who may not fit the traditional mold.

“I ask you to vote tonight in favor of all of your constituents,” said Jason Cobb, a Denver attorney who is raising a son with another man. “We’re more than a political issue. We’re your family, we’re your neighbors, your sons, your daughters, your grandchildren. I ask you to vote for family tonight.”

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