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Colorado lawmakers considering civil unions


DENVER >> Wherever they go, Fran and Anna Simon carry their 3-year-old son’s birth certificate to prove to anyone that they are his parents.

Jessie Ulibarri fears he won’t be by the side of his partner, Louis Trujillo, in case Trujillo is ever hospitalized.

That’s because same-sex marriage is banned in Colorado. But two openly gay lawmakers are leading an effort to grant gay couples the rights and protections married couples have through civil unions. Seven states, most recently Hawaii and Illinois, allow civil unions for gay couples. Proponents in Colorado believe the tide has changed since voters approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage in 2006.

Senate Bill 172 faces its first committee hearing Monday.

"The constitutional amendment was about marriage and that’s not what this bill is about," said Denver Sen. Pat Steadman, a sponsor of the bill. "The importance of this issue is that there are literally thousands of families in Colorado that currently do not have the equal protection of state law that are available to others."

Steadman’s bill would grant couples in a civil union several legal rights, including the ability to be involved in medical decisions affecting their partners; parental rights where a child is involved; and the ability to decide what happens if a loved one dies.

The bill would enhance inheritance rights, make it easier for partners to list each other as dependents with health insurance, and give a partner priority in being designated a guardian or personal representative.

Steadman says he’d be one of the first to take advantage of being in a civil union with his partner.

"Yeah. I would do it this summer," Steadman said. "These are protections no family should be without."

Fran and Anna Simon, both 41, had a traditional Jewish ceremony three years ago, but it has no legal standing. They say they’ve endured many bureaucratic headaches because they’re not a legally recognized couple.

Along with the birth certificate, the couple carry a card designating each other to be in charge of decisions in the event of an emergency.

They say they had to hire an attorney to petition a judge to put both their names on a birth certificate when they had their child through artificial insemination. And when Anna wanted to change her last name to Simon, she said she had to undergo a criminal background check, petition a judge and advertise the change in a local newspaper.

"These are things that heterosexual couples with legally recognized unions don’t even have to think about," said Anna Simon, a biology professor at the University of Denver.

Ulibarri, 27, public policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Colorado, said he’s had to argue with pharmacists while picking up medicine for his partner, who had back surgery. Ulibarri said he visited Trujillo in the hospital but felt an underlying fear.

"People would ask, ‘Well what’s your relationship?’ And I was always afraid that if they found out that I was — and I say this pretty sadly — if someone found out I was just his domestic partner, that I would have no legal protection to stay with him by his side during hard times," Ulibarri said.

Democratic Rep. Mark Ferrandino of Denver will carry the bill if it makes it to the House — and it could. All 20 Democrats in the Senate, where they have a majority, have signed as co-sponsors of Steadman’s bill.

"I think the vast majority of Coloradans support this bill," Ferrandino said. "The question is, will this chamber, will they agree with what their constituents believe?"

Senate Republican leader Mike Kopp of Jefferson County said in a statement that he believes Coloradans want their lawmakers to focus on the economy.

"They have not asked us to revisit the decision they made in 2006 where they voted down recognition of civil unions," said Kopp. "While Democrats certainly have the freedom to introduce this legislation, the Senate Republicans will continue to focus on our agenda of limiting the size of government, public safety and promoting job growth."


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