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Colo. Civil Unions Measure Survives Another Key Vote (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

By IVAN MORENO 05/04/12 07:53 PM ET AP

Gay Pride

DENVER — Gay couples came one step closer Friday to having civil unions in Colorado after another Republican-led House committee approved legislation that appears to have enough support to get to the governor's desk.

The finance committee approved the measure with a 7-6 vote after the bill passed the House judiciary committee late Thursday.

Rep. Don Beezley was the only Republican to support the measure on the finance panel.

"For me, it really came down to that basic issue of fairness and doing the right thing," Beezley said, echoing a similar comment made by Republican Rep. B.J. Nikkel, who joined Democrats on the judiciary committee in approving the measure.

The bill now goes before the appropriations committee. Democrats on that panel unanimously support the bill and need at least one Republican to vote yes for it to go to a full House vote, where it would likely pass.

Republican Rep. Cheri Gerou, a member of the appropriations committee, previously said she supports the measure.

"I'm very excited," said a smiling Rep. Mark Ferrandino, a Democrat and gay lawmaker sponsoring the bill. "We're one step closer today than we were yesterday, and yesterday we were one step closer than we've ever been."

The state Senate has already approved the bill and it could reach Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper by Wednesday, when the session ends. He is firmly in support.

If the bill passes, Colorado would join more than a dozen states that allow gay marriage or civil unions. Hawaii and Delaware began allowing civil unions earlier this year.

The measure does not allow gay marriage but does grant gay couples rights similar to marriage, including enhanced inheritance and parental rights, and the ability to be involved in partner's medical decisions.

Republicans who oppose the bill said it undermines traditional marriage and that voters expressed their position on the issue when they banned same-sex marriage in 2006.

Republicans have a 33-32 vote advantage in the House. But given the committee votes, where Republicans joined Democrats, the bill could have enough support for passage.

Earlier Friday, Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty gave his colleagues a pointed warning from the podium, urging them not to attack the motives of legislators on pending legislation. He made clear later in an interview with The Associated Press that he was referring to the civil unions bill.

McNulty said Senate Democrats took months to move the bill to the House and did it on purpose to force a decision within the final days of the legislative session.

"I think that there are those in the Democratic Party that want to make sure that this issue is a political issue in November," he said, referring to the upcoming election.

Beezley and Nikkel are not running for re-election, a fact that may have made it easier for them to support an issue that divides the Republican Party.

Nikkel was among the Republicans who helped defeat the same bill last year in committee. She said this year she was swayed by the show of support from dozens of people who attended the Thursday night hearing, including some who testified about feeling vulnerable because they do not have the same legal rights as married people.

"I really thought about it," she said.

Beezley said he's also given the issue a lot of consideration.

"I think it's been an evolutionary process of respecting and learning to appreciate the fact that, regardless of whether an individual understands the nature of the relationships and the situation, that it really comes down to basic equity and fairness for a human being," he said.

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Senate Bill 2: http://goo.gl/GR9y4

LOOK: Civil Unions bill rally
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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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Filed by Matt Ferner  |