Colorado Senator: I Voted Against Civil Unions, But Now I May Be For Them

Colorado Sen. Shawn Mitchell (R)

Earlier this month, Colorado’s House Judiciary Committee failed to advance Senate Bill-172, which would have allowed residents to enter into civil unions and provided same-sex couples with critical legal protections. The bill passed the Senate, but a motion to move the measure onto the Committee on Appropriations did not garner a majority and fell in a 5-6 party line vote. But now, Senator Shawn Mitchell (R), who voted against the measure, may be having second thoughts. In a post on Colorado Peak Politics, Mitchell explains his evolving position:

[Civil unions] could make them less likely in the first place if heterosexual couples choose civil unions over traditional marriage….It further erodes the cultural consensus and social expectation that reinforce marriage as unique, that a man and woman commit not just to each other, but to God and/or society to work and sacrifice for their family.

Yet, with all that, the years have brought different experiences into focus….Conservatives have long cited other factors eroding family stability, including permissive divorce laws, perverse behaviors enabled by an impersonal welfare state, men who abandon families, fatherless children, increased sexuality among teens and children, and more. The impact of these trends on families and child welfare is direct and devastating.

Considering these things, I wondered if I was focusing on a mote that might touch heterosexual families, and missing a beam squeezing gay households. Maybe recognizing civil unions could blur the focus on two parent homes raising children. But maybe the impact would be minuscule compared to broader trends ravaging families. And maybe the benefits that same-sex households would feel acutely are simply more important and more valuable to them than any speculative and marginal damage to the climate for heterosexual commitment is to others.

Indeed, during the debate in the House, Rep. Daniel Kagan (D) pointed out that under current law, same-sex partners have no legal obligation to rear children, arguing that extending legal protections through civil unions would actually enhance the kind of “family stability” that conservatives typically promote.

“[Y]ou seem to prefer that there be no obligation toward children on behalf of the parents who are not the legal parents of children under this current status quo but would become legally obligated as a parent,” Kagan said during a debate with Douglas Napier of the Alliance Defense Fund. “I just have tremendous trouble understanding why no protection for children is preferable to you than the protections of children that would be afforded by this bill.” [Listen to the full exchange here]