Yesterday, the Colorado State Senate passed SB 172, which would allow same-sex couples (or any two unmarried adults) to obtain a civil union. During the debate, the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Pat Steadman (D) — who is openly gay — said the measure provided “very basic, but very important legal protections… that no family should be without.” Opponents of the measure disagreed. Led by Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R), this group of lawmakers predicted that state recognition of same-sex relationships could lead to a breakdown of traditional marriages and pointed to Europe, where they claimed the family has been “abandoned”:
LUNDBERG: We need not go back centuries, in fact we cannot go back centuries, because it is such a foreign concept to human experience, save the last few decades. But we do have some examples. We can look to the nation of France, which instituted civil unions in the 1990s. We can look at some of these Scandinavian countries that have gone down this same road and what we see is not a reinforcement of marriage and the family unit. But what we see are cultures that have abandoned the family unit as a foundation of human society…This would change the very concept of what marriage is.
Conservatives made this very same argument after Massachusetts began granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004, warning against a rapid deterioration of heterosexual partnerships and broken families. Their European statistics were wrong then — after Denmark’s passed its registered-partner law in 1989, marriage rates climbed, as did the rates in other Scandinavian countries — and their doomsday projections never materialized in the states that do recognize same-sex unions today.
In fact, Massachusetts recorded the “the lowest divorce rates in the entire country” and Iowa has posted the lowest number of divorces since 1970. As FiveThirtyEight.com pointed out last year, “states which have tended to take more liberal policies toward gay marriage have tended also to have larger declines in their divorce rates,” while the seven states with the highest rates “all had constitutional prohibitions on same-sex marriage in place throughout 2008.” And although the causation may still be unclear, it’s certainly not the case that same sex marriage results in the disintegration of the institution as a whole.
During yesterday’s debate, Lundberg also disputed claims that same-sex couples are sometimes denied hospital visitation rights because their unions are not recognized by the state. Characterizing such hardships as “beyond my experience,” Lundberg concluded, “They don’t occur by my observation, anyway.”
The civil unions bill will face a final vote this morning and will then go to the House, where Republicans have a one-seat majority. Advocates believe they have the votes to pass the bill on the floor, but suspect that it could face a challenge in committee. Polling has shown that 72 percent of Coloradans and 61 percent of Republicans in the state support civil unions. In 2006, however, voters approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage and voted down a measure that would have established civil unions. (H/T: Daniel Gonzales at Box Turtle Bulletin)
11:15AM EST: We jumped the gun a bit. The Senate bill has not yet passed final reading, as the post initially implied.