DENVER (AP) — The debate of whether to grant Colorado same-sex couples rights similar to married couples returns to the state Capitol Wednesday, this time with more momentum than when it failed narrowly last year.
The proposal is likely to be among the most emotionally charged this year, with supporters pleading for equal rights and opponents saying civil unions undermine traditional marriages.
The issue has gained traction as more states have recently passed either civil union or gay marriage laws. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper urged lawmakers to pass civil during his State of the State speech last month, and more Republicans have expressed public support for the measure.
"It's encouraging to see people rise above the political fray to respect the dignity of my family," said Jason Cobb, a 37-year-old Denver attorney who has been in a 14-year relationship with Jason Prussman, 38. They have a 4-year-old son.
Cobb said passing the legislation will be a positive reinforcement for their child.
"And making sure that he knows that he has a secure family and that we offer them unconditional love and sense of security," he said.
The bill addresses parental rights and child support when a same-sex couple separates. The bill would also grant same-sex couples other rights similar to what exist in a traditional marriage, such as the ability to be involved in their partner's medical and end-of-life decisions. It also would enhance inheritance and property rights.
"Every family understands the laws that we're talking about here and why a legally recognized relationship is so important," said Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, a gay lawmaker from Denver who is sponsoring the bill. "People deal with this at their kitchen tables every day. They may not realize that they're dealing with this particular issue, but the kinds of things they're dealing with — health care decisions, estate planning, child support, child custody, property rights, relationship problems, you know, everybody's known somebody that's gone through a divorce."
Last year, the bill Steadman co-sponsored easily cleared the Senate with bipartisan support, and it's expected to pass the chamber again this time. However, the proposal's future is uncertain in the House, where Republicans who oppose the bill hold a one-vote majority. It was defeated there last session on a committee party-line vote.
Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty has said he opposes the bill, but promises that it will get a fair hearing.
Supporters of the bill have been trying to get a Republican co-sponsor in the House, but no one has signed on yet, Steadman said.
About a dozen states allow either civil unions or same-sex marriage. The New Jersey Senate passed a gay marriage bill this week, but a veto is expected. Civil union laws took effect this month in Hawaii and Delaware.
"I'm optimistic that it will pass this year," said Denver resident Fran Simon, 42. She and her partner, Anna, are raising a 4-year-old boy.
Simon said the legislation would be helpful during hospital visitations and it would provide her son stability.
"Everyone would recognize the right that we have to visit each other in the hospital," she said. "Our son would have protections if, God forbid, we split up. He would be treated the same as any other child in the state of Colorado."
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