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March 22, 2013

Colorado to become ninth state with civil union law

Denver--Colorado legislators on March 12 approved a civil union law with a 39-26 vote in the House of Representatives. Two Republicans crossed the aisle to approve the measure.

It is now on the desk of Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is expected to sign it. This will add Colorado to the eight states with civil union or domestic partnership laws and the nine states and Washington, D.C. that have full same-sex marriage.

Last year, Republicans used their single-vote majority to kill the bill at the end of the legislative session. However, they lost control of the chamber in the November election.

Voters in the state approved a marriage ban amendment in 2006, precluding the legislature from passing a full marriage law. However, if the Supreme Court rules this spring that civil unions and similar constructs are unconstitutional “separate but equal” laws, they could be transformed into full marriage.

The bill states that churches are not required to perform civil unions, but Republican legislators wanted wider “religious protections,” covering adoption agencies and businesses with religious viewpoints.

Colorado has eight out gay lawmakers, five of whom said they will join their partners in civil unions. State Sen. Pat Steadman, whose partner died of cancer last year, told the Associated Press,  “Some of us don’t get that opportunity.”

In other nuptial news, marriage bills in Rhode Island and Minnesota saw advances, while the Illinois legislature may be coming up short in efforts to put forward full marriage equality.

In Minnesota, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a full marriage bill to the floor on a 5-3 vote, although it is unclear how much support the measure has in the full Senate. The House version of the bill is in the Civil Law Committee, where they are hearing testimony on it.

Minnesota also saw a legislative power shift in the November election, along with the defeat of a proposed constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage.

The Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled a March 21 hearing on a marriage equality bill that passed the House two months ago by a 2½-to-1 margin. Another bill being considered would place the marriage issue before voters in the 2014 general election if the legislature approves it. Rhode Island is the sole New England state without full marriage, although it has a sparsely-used civil union law and Gov. Lincoln Chaffee signed an executive order in 2012 ordering state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other jurisdictions.

In Illinois, newspapers are reporting that House Speaker Mike Madigan said that their marriage bill is 12 votes short and will not come up for a vote, but sponsor Greg Harris told the Windy City Times that he was close to the 60 votes he needed.

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