Colo civil unions bill gets OK by another panel

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By IVAN MORENO, Associated Press

DENVER (AP) — 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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Find Ivan Moreno on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IvanJourno.

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