Civil unions passed the state House of Representatives this morning. The bill already made its way through the Senate and now awaits Governor John Hickenlooper’s signature. When he signs it later this month, Colorado will be the 18th state to have legalized civil unions or gay marriage. Colorado Public Radio’s Ben Markus has more.
Reporter Ben Markus: The first openly gay Speaker of the House, Mark Ferrandino has pushed a civil unions bill for the past three years. This time he took to the House floor confident that this was the year.
Mark Ferrandino: It’s about love it’s about family, it’s about equality.
Reporter: At the end of last session the Republican-led House killed the civil unions bill at the last minute. Democrats regained control in November -- adding additional openly gay members … who Speaker Ferrandino said were only asking for the same rights afforded their straight colleagues.
Mark Ferrandino: You heard from every single member of this body who is gay, lesbian who are just asking that we have our love recognized like any other love, that our love is the same as everyone else’s love, and that our families are the same as everyone else’s families.
Reporter: Before the vote, Colorado Springs Democrat Pete Lee said passing civil unions would make this a historic day.
Pete Lee: It is also a time for redemption, of the slights, of the uncomfortable secrets, the taunts and the sneers. We vote today to redeem our friends.
Reporter: But many Republicans were clearly conflicted. Bob Gardner praised Ferrandino as a good father but said he objected to the bill primarily because church-based non-profits and adoption agencies were not exempted.
Bob Gardner: And it will continue to be my objection, and I do believe that we will continue to visit and revisit that particular issue over and over again in the courts because we did not deal with it properly here.
Reporter: Other Republicans, like Justin Everett from Littleton, argued that civil unions was just a proxy for gay marriage, which was outlawed by Colorado voters 7 years ago.
Justin Everett: This is going against the will of the people, this issue needs to be addressed through the voters, because they have already spoken
Reporter: But his Republican colleague Cheri Gerou broke with her party, noting that big societal change is sometimes uncomfortable.
Cheri Gerou: And I personally, I’m not completely comfortable right now, but I know this is the right thing to do.
Reporter: Gerou and only one other Republican, Carole Murray, crossed party lines to vote for Civil Unions. But given the Democratic margin in the House it didn’t matter. Speaker Ferrandino read the final tally.
Mark Ferrandino: With 39 aye votes, 26 no votes, 0 excused, 0 absent Senate Bill 11 is passes Gavel strikes, and applause.
Reporter: Afterwards the 8 openly gay members of the General Assembly gathered for a press conference. When a reporter asked how many would be getting a civil union in May when the law goes into effect … tears welled up in Senator Pat Steadman’s eyes.
Pat Steadman: Some of us don’t get that opportunity.
Reporter: His partner died of pancreatic cancer last year. He said the civil unions law was clearly a huge victory for the gay and lesbian community. Affording them benefits and protections similar to marriage. But...
Steadman: Civil unions are not marriage, they are something that are separate and distinct and lesser and unequal. And that really is not good enough.
Reporter: He said the fight for full inclusion in society must go on.
[Photo: The 8 openly gay members of the CO Legislature after the vote. Ben Markus]