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Civil Unions In Colorado Could Be One Vote Away: Bill's Fate To Be Decided By House Judiciary Committee (PHOTOS, LIVEBLOG)

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A bill that would create legal civil unions for Colorado's same-sex couples will be heard today in the Republican controlled House where it needs only one vote to pass. However, the House Judiciary committee, which is hearing the bill today, defeated a similar bill in 2011 on a party-line vote.

UPDATE:

Joining five other House Democrats, Republican Rep. B.J. Nikkel of Loveland voted in favor of Colorado's civil unions bill, effectively passing the bill on a 6-5 vote late Thursday night.

The bill now faces votes in the House Finance and Appropriations committees before it makes it to the House floor.

EARLIER:

(SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTOS, LIVEBLOG)

In an unexpected turn of events, Republican Rep. Mark Barker suffered a stroke and was hospitalized Tuesday night and will not be able to attend the hearing today. The Denver Post reports that House Speaker Frank McNulty selected Republican Rep. Randy Baumgardner to fill in for Rep. Barker for the civil unions bill hearing.

The replacement of Barker by Baumgardner seems unlikely to affect the outcome of today's vote on Senate Bill 2. On Wednesday, McNulty said that he would fill Barker's seat on the committee with someone who shares Barker's point of view on the issue -- Barker opposes civil unions, as does Baumgardner.

Last week, three Republicans in the House joined Democrats in approving SB-2. And in the House, Fox31 reports that several House Republicans have expressed support for the civil unions proposal, however none of them are on the House Judiciary committee. If the bill gets through the House committee today, it could very likely pass the full House -- Republicans only hold a one seat majority and there is enough bipartisan support to push it through.

"I don't have anyone in my family who's gay, as far as I know," Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, one of three republicans who voted for last year’s bill said according to KDVR. "I'm not here for any reason except to say that this bill, the civil unions bill, is the right thing to do."

If the bill got to Hickenlooper's desk, it is expected that he would sign it into law. In his State of the State Address at the beginning of 2012, Hickenlooper urged lawmakers to "pass civil unions this year."

Read the full text of the bill here.

Last year the Capitol was abuzz with rumors that there was some Republican support for a civil unions bill in the House, but after it failed to pass Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver), the bill's sponsor at the time, made it a goal to equip the bill with a Republican sponsor this year.

Representative Brian Del Grosso, R-Loveland, was rumored to be one of those open to civil unions.

I think the deciding factor at the end of the day was that 2006, so just four and a half years ago, (Colorado voters) said, we don’t support that and so I don’t feel like, as a legislator it’s not my... I shouldn’t override the will of the voter.

But in early April, a poll by Public Policy Polling found that contrary to the feelings of 2006, 62 percent of Coloradans would now be in favor of a civil unions bill and 53 percent would also be in favor of gay marriage.

While this year's Senate Bill 2 does have the support of some Republicans, it still does not have a Republican sponsor in the House where they hold a one-vote majority.

According to The Denver Post, proponents of the civil unions bill are holding a noon rally on the steps of the City-County Building. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino will be among the speakers in attendance.

Today's hearing begins at 1:30, but there are several bills up before civil unions so the hearing is expected to run late.

LOOK: Civil Unions bill rally

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Civil Unions Rally At The Denver City And County Building
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After 3 1/2 hours of testimony and questions in front of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. B.J. Nikkel of Loveland, a Republican, broke the party-line by voting yes.

After her vote successfully carried the bill out of committee, Nikkel told the Denver Post, "I think it was the right thing to do. We're all Coloradans, right? It's not something I'm passionate about but I think we ought to move forward and bring it to a vote in the House."

Ferrandino says he's very happy the bill passed and that Rep. Nikkel must have changed her mind after listening to tonight's testimony.

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I and the people you've heard before are not asking for a validation of our relationship. My partner and I have been together for 13 years, and whatever happens here today does not change my relationship with Greg. We love each other and will continue to be with each other no matter what happens.

What we're asking for is equal rights... as I sit here on the floor before you, I don't have equal access to that law... my family, as many of you know, Greg and I are thinking of adopting and my child won't have equal access to that law.

All we're asking for is equal access to those books behind you mister chairman... we should treat all families as the same under the law.

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DiGiacomo testifies that he is attracted to men, and goes on to detail his belief that this led him to "bathhouses" and "orgies".

DiGiacomo refers to the "gay lifestyle" as the "culture of death." He goes on to thank the Catholic and other religious groups that provide "ex-gay" programs.

No committee questions for DiGiacomo.

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"Children deserve both a mom and a dad...SB 2 gives couples an out. I can hear the debate now, 'I won't marry you, but we can have a civil union'... what civil unions would do should be opposed. This is not good for children, this is not good for society at large. Simply put, this is bad public policy"

Father Carmody is thanking the committee for the exemption by child providers to opt out based on religious beliefs. He urges the committee to still vote agains SB 2 however.

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Former Sen. Ed Jones testifies against SB2

"I don't like the bill, the same reason I didn't like it last year."

Ed Jones is a Republican from Colorado Springs who co-chaired President George H.W. Bush's 1992 re-election campaign in Colorado.

Jones says he takes issue with civil unions being called "civil rights" because, he says, civil unions are about choices. He also says that in his personal opinion, this bill redefines marriage and that the Bible said "Adam and Eve, not two Adams or two Eves."

He said, "Think about the man, the woman and the babies," arguing that "babies" or rather, children, would be stigmatized for having gay parents.

Jones says, "I've got gay friends, I go to football games with them. But I don't necessarily agree with their lifestyle."

Rep. Dan Pabon, one of the five Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee tells Jones that in the time of civil rights, "I bet not all of (the people who supported your rights) were black, I bet some of them were white, yellow, brown and all the colors of the rainbows [sic] and I bet that not all of them were straight. This is not about defending one person's rights. This is about everyone's rights."

At the end of Rep. Pabon's lengthy comment, he was asked by Rep. Bob Gardner--who is chair of the House Judiciary Committee-- "Rep. Pabon, is there a question you're asking?"

Pabon answered tongue-in-cheek, "Don't you think?"

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Mayes says the ACLU supports the Civil Unions bill but would prefer if it did not give a pass for child placement agencies to opt out based on religious beliefs.

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Speaking for the civil unions bill, Troy Ard, testifies as an openly-gay man and urges other Republicans to support Rep. Pat Steadman's bill.

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This measure has broad support in the Colorado Bar Association.

I want to point out 2 particular areas that are important in this legislation...This law would provide children with the ability to have two legal parents.

What designated beneficiaries does not do, is establish responsibility.

Moses is now discussing the inability of "designated beneficiaries" to give the "panoply of rights" provided by civil unions.

For instance, "designated beneficiaries" do not protect the economically-disadvantaged spouse if the couple splits.

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"Society will not collapse, but will thrive from the participation of ALL its members."

Lucero testifies that she is bi-sexual and has a girlfriend.

"We are not asking that those who oppose us change their beliefs... I'm not asking you as representatives to change your belief, but allow us to live ours. There is nothing about being gay, bisexual or transexual that requires us to be single. We've accepted so much room for mystery in religion, why can't we accept this one?

We hunger for a place in our society."

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Ana Simon testifies:

I love this woman so much, and I just want the security of knowing I can take care of her the way she takes care of Jeremy (our son) and me.

She's the one I trust to raise a child with...People understand that a civil union means she is the one I want to visit me in the hospital, to make decisions for me if I'm seriously injured or die.

Fran Simon testifies:

If you want stronger communities in Colorado, then vote yes.

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Mario Nicolais, spokesman for Coloradans for Freedom--a conservative group in favor of civil unions-- testifies in support of civil unions says:

This is an incredibly important issue. I think that while Rep. Sonnenberg said that there was an important debate about traffic tickets that deserved a full house, we are talking about civil rights here.

He goes on to add that fighting for civil rights and freedoms are "not new issues" for Republicans.

He argues that "two parents are better than one" and that supporting civil unions would promote the Republican pillar of family values.

Quotes the Bible, 1 John:

He who loves his brother walks in the light and has no cause to stumble. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

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Jack Finlaw, chief legal counsel for Gov. Hickenlooper says "The Governor urges you to vote for Civil Unions."

Finlaw also adds that he is here for himself as a gay person, "a life-long Christian," and a "life-long Republican."

Finlaw said:

"I think it would please me and it would please the Governor if we could have bipartisan support for Civil Unions...

I would say that Civil Unions are recognized as a step above designated beneficiaries."

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Rep. Mark Ferrandino, a sponsor of a similar bill last year says that though the Designated Beneficiary Act that Colorado has is a good law, it's "not enough" for couples, in response to House Speaker Frank McNulty's statement that Colorado already has some protection for same-sex couples.

McNulty is against SB 2

Brad Clark, executive director of One Colorado, testifies that there are some questions he hopes that the committee members ask themselves:

How would you feel if you could not protect the person you love? How you woud feel if you could not hold their hand in an ambulance.

Clark also says that there is more universal understanding about what "civil unions" are versus what "designated beneficiaries" are.

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@ IvanJourno : House sgt told @MarkFerrandino there's a bazillion people signed up 2 testify for pot DUI before civil unions. (bazillion = 35 or so) #coleg

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@ IvanJourno : Latest update to civil unions debate set to start this evening. http://t.co/sF4FOMDW #coleg #copolitics #LGBT

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At noon members of One Colorado and supporters of SB 2 met on the steps of the Denver City and County building to rally in support of the bill before its highly anticipated hearing in the state House Judiciary Committee.

Signs waving at the rally said, "Focus on your own family" and, "Love is love."

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock lead the speeches before handing off the microphone to the city's councilwoman at-large Robin Kneich (read her full remarks here), state Senator and the bill's sponsor Pat Steadman, and state Representative Mark Ferrandino.

During the rally, Ferrandino said:

In the past I have said "It's not a matter of if (we will pass the civil unions bill), it's a matter of when." I'd like to add that it's not a matter of when, it's a matter of now.

Click through the slideshow above for photos of today's One Colorado rally at the Denver City and County building.

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HuffPost will be liveblogging the Civil Unions bill rally and debate, check back for updates!

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