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Religious Tolerance logo

Same sex civil unions & same-sex marriages (SSM) in Colorado

Part 4: 2013-FEB: State Senate gives initial &
final approval to Senate Bill 11 for civil unions

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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2013-FEB-08: Senate gives initial approval to civil unions bill:

After about three hours of debate, a vote was taken in the Senate on the civil unions bill, Senate Bill 11. The vote was 21 to 14 in favor, 1 and was almost completely along party lines. Only one Republican, Senator Ellen Roberts, voted with the Democrats in favor of the bill. She said:

"I support this bill as a Republican who is right of center. I believe strongly that individuals have the right to give their property to whomever they choose, and this bill encapsulates that right."

She also said that the bill promotes family values because it:

"... creates a structured, legalized framework for children to grow up in." 2

Brad Clark, Executive Director of One Colorado, a group promoting marriage equality in the state, said:

"Committed gay and lesbian couples in the state have been waiting for years — 10, 20, even 40 years — to have their relationships protected. It's well past time that these families have equal protection under the law. We applaud the bipartisan passage of civil unions in the Senate and look forward to the debate in the House." 1

Lucia Guzman, (D) who co-sponsored the bill, regards civil unions as a civil rights issue. She thanked her fellow senators for their civility and respect during the debate. She said:

"I am a lesbian and in a committed relationship, but you also have the right to make your own decision. I am also here asking you to be a little bit more open, to be able to walk with us on this journey that has taken so long."

Much of the debate centered around religious freedom:

  • Religious freedom in the conventional meaning of the term was not discussed. This is the right freely hold diverse religious beliefs, to join with other believers in religious meetings, to construct buildings consecrated for religious purposes, to proselytize, etc.

  • Debate actually centered around the new meaning of religious freedom: the freedom to discriminate against and denigrate minorities -- lesbians, gays and bisexuals in this case. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that pastors, priests, ministers, congregations and religious institutions can freely refuse to marry same-sex couples. However, the senators expressed concerns that religiously affiliated organizations and agencies might be forced to recognize civil unions. Catholic adoption agencies, for example, might have to consider partners in civil unions who wish to adopt a child.

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The other co-sponsor, Pat Steadman (D) gave an emotional speech. He described Senate Bill 11 as:

"... just another example of a law written to deal with life and death and everything in between."

Steadman said that those who believe that their faith "requires them to discriminate" have some options. Drawing an analogy to the civil rights conflicts of the mid 20th century, he suggested:

"Go someplace where you can be as judgmental as you'd like. Go inside your church, and if you want to, set up separate water fountains in there — if you can. But don't claim your free exercise of religion requires the state of Colorado to maintain separate water fountains for her residents."

Senator Owen Hill (R) promoted an amendment that would have allowed religious organizations and businesses who didn't want to recognize civil unions to freely discriminate against same-sex couples who were in unions. Adoption agencies as mentioned above would be one example. Catholic schools who want to treat employees in civil unions as single; wedding photographers, wedding cake bakers, etc who might want to restrict their services only to opposite-sex couples, might be other examples.

The amendment failed.

Senator Steve King (R) commented:

If this were a simple bill, 33 of us would not look so tired and emotionally drained. A number of unintended consequences that we have no idea about are out there for us in this bill."

Currently, loving, committed same-sex relationships are not recognized by the government who treats such couples as "legal strangers" -- merely as roommates. They and their children are almost completely devoid of all of the protections given to opposite-sex married couples.

A final, recorded vote is scheduled for FEB-11. If the bill passes again, it will be forwarded to the House. Since the House is also controlled by Democrats, and since the votes of the legislators almost completely follow party lines, the bill is expected to pass sometime during 2013-MAR and mostly become effective on 2013-MAY-01.

If that happens then the score will be:

  • Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage.
  • The fate of SSM in California is in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court which is expected to issue its ruling in late 2013-JUN.
  • Nine states will have legalized civil unions or domestic partnerships.
  • About 30 states recognize same-sex couples only as legal strangers.

Senator Mark Scheffel (R) is the assistant minority leader. He voted against the bill, and complimented Democrats for their handling of the debate, even though it was obvious that the bill''s second reading would be approved. He said:

"In the face of apparent defeat in the past I've seen nothing but humility and grace and quiet resolve. And now in the face of apparent victory, I see nothing but humility, grace, and continued resolve. For that, I applaud you and thank you." 3

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2013-FEB-11: To the surprise of nobody, the Colorado Senate gave final approval of civil unions bill:

As expected, the Senate approved the civil unions bill with a vote of 21 to 14 without debate. As with the vote on the initial approval of the bill, Senator Ellen Roberts (R) broke rank with fellow Republicans and voted in favor of the bill. All of the rest of the Republicans voted against the bill and all of the Democrats voted in favor.

Coloradans for Freedom, the conservative Republican group that promotes both civil unions and Republican majorities in the Legislature, had limited success. Only one Republican voted in favor of civil unions. Every other Republican Senator voted against the bill.

Since the Democrats control the House, and the Governor John Hickenlooper is a Democrat, the eventual passage of the bill into law is essentially certain. 5

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Colorado Senate approves civil union bill in 21-14 vote; final approval expected Monday," Towleroad, 2013-FEB-08, at:
  2. Colleen O'Connor, "Colorado Senate gives initial approval to civil unions bill," The Denver Post, 2013-FEB-08, at:
  3. Ivan Moreno, "Civil unions gets [sic] initial nod in Colorado Senate," Associated Press, 2013-FEB-08, at:
  4. The text of the bill is available in PDF format at:
  5. "Civil Union Bill Passes Colorado Senate," Associated Press, 2013-FEB-11, at:

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Copyright 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
First posted: 2013-FEB-10
Latest update: 2013-FEB-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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