The Colorado House Finance Committee met today to hear the legislation for civil unions. It passed 7-6 along party lines, with all six Republicans on the committee voting against it. Once again, Republicans attempted to add an amendment that would allow Catholic Charities to discriminate against same-sex couples in its adoption services, even implying that it functions as a government entity, but the amendment failed. Last year, Catholic Charities testified that it would shut down whether it had exemptions or not. The bill advances to one more committee later this week — House Appropriations — before it can proceed to the House floor for a vote.
After over five hours of testimony, the Colorado House Judiciary Committee voted 8-3 to advance SB 11, the civil unions bill. Last year, the legislation was killed by Republicans in the House, but Democrats won sweeping victories and even elected Rep. Mark Ferrandino (D), who is openly gay and previously sponsored civil unions, to be Speaker. The bill must advance to the Finance Committee yet, but it is expected to pass the House easily and Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has committed to signing it. A November poll showed that 70 percent of Coloradans support the legal recognition of same-sex couples either through civil unions or marriage, which is currently prohibited under the state constitution.
The Republican-led House Majority Caucus laughed off the idea of enacting civil unions or domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian couples as they rolled out their “Guiding Principles” last week, characterizing such protections as “what happens inside your home.”
Responding to a question from Mark Miller of the Juneau Empire, House Leader Lance Pruitt said the party didn’t even discuss or consider the measures:
MILLER: I’m looking at a recent Public Policy Polling of Alaska that found that only 30 percent of respondents believe there should be no legal recognition of gay couples’ relationships in Alaska. I was just curious, would the caucus support the idea of having domestic partnerships or civil unions open to same-sex couples.
PRUITT: …We didn’t have a discussion here about what happens inside your home. We’re talking about whether or not you can make money, whether or not there is a great economy, and whether or not you’re going to have the opportunity to live in Alaska with a great future. Now, your discussion on that, we didn’t talk about that.
The Alaska constitution defines marriage as a union between one mand and one woman, though in 2005, “the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that public employers in the state of Alaska could not offer employment benefits to married couples without providing similar benefits to same-sex domestic partners.” A state executive order also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in state employment.
In April voters in Anchorage, Alaska overwhelmingly rejected a citywide ballot measure “that would have added protections for people regardless of ‘sexual orientation or transgender identity’ to the city’s civil rights laws.”
The Republican lawmakers issued an apology on Monday. According to House Speaker Mike Chenault (R), it is clear ”from the totality of the response and circumstances the laughter was in reaction to which legislator had to field the difficult question, and did not go to the merits of the issue. Regardless, laughter was not appropriate and for that we sincerely apologize.”
With a final vote of 21-14, the Colorado Senate has approved its third and final passage of SB 11, the civil unions bill. There was no additional debate before today’s vote. The bill proceeds to the House, where its sponsor, openly gay Rep. Mark Ferrandino (D), is now the chamber’s Speaker.
Civil unions sponsor Sen. Pat Steadman (D) speaking before supporters in May 2012.
Just now, the Colorado Senate voted 21-14 to approve Senate Bill 11, which would create civil unions for same-sex couples. This was the second of two readings, with a final vote expected on Monday. During the debate, several Republicans attempted to add various amendments that would create special religious protections for adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples, but none of them passed. Denver area political reporter Eli Stokols pointed out that last year’s civil unions bill had such protections, but House Republicans went out of their way to block that bill from passing.
The Colorado Senate Appropriations Committee just approved SB 11, the civil unions bill, with a 4-3 vote. It was previously advanced by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. The bill now advances to the full Senate for consideration.
On Friday, Denver Nuggets star player Kenneth Faried and his two moms produced a video supporting civil unions in Colorado. His moms, Carol and Waudda, are married and have been together for eleven years, and having legal protections has helped Carol take care of Waudda, who has lupus. Faried explains his love for them:
FARIED: That happy day still remains in my mind deeply. And no matter what I’m always going to call her mother and this lady right here… she’s still going to be my mother no matter what. Nobody can ever tell me I can’t have two mothers because I really do.
The Colorado Senate’s Judiciary Committee advanced a bill to authorize civil unions Wednesday, on a 3-2 vote. The bill now moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee. All three committee Democrats voted in favor, the two Republicans voted no.
With a Democratic majority now in both chambers of Colorado’s legislature, civil unions legislation is expected to pass quite easily this year. That won’t stop Catholic Charities from attempting to thwart the effort with its perennial threat to abandon all adoption services if not granted specific protections to continue discriminating against same-sex couples. Mark Rohlena, President and CEO of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, explains that a complete shutdown is “very well what could happen”:
ROHLENA: We feel it would be a very sad commentary if Colorado forced religious institutions or those who believe in a different framework to do something against their conscience… We probably would cease the operation of our adoption programs. That risk is always there. I think that we would try to explore every avenue available to us to provide this vital service to the community.
Catholic Charities can easily avoid the conflict by functioning privately without dependency on state funding. Catholic Charities in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC preferred to honor their ultimatums and voluntarily shut down when the respective governments refused to continue the organization’s funding if it discriminated. Rohlena claimed that his agency does not receive state funds to “any significant degree,” so this shouldn’t be a concern.
But Catholic Charities demonstrated quite brashly during the debate last year in Colorado that it cares more about opposing recognition of same-sex couples than it does the service it provides. Last year’s version of the civil unions bill included a specific provision that the law could “not be interpreted to require a child placement agency to place a child for adoption with parties to a civil union.” Despite this exemption, Catholic Charities nonetheless testified it would shut down anyway.
If any lawmaker might be swayed by Catholic Charities, that testimony should be sufficient evidence that the threat is a bluff. Just as an Illinois bishop recently admitted that religious exemptions will not assuage the Catholic Church’s opposition to marriage equality, Catholic Charities of Colorado is going to protest civil unions even if lawmakers meet all of their demands.