DENVER (AP) — A civil unions proposal cleared a key hurdle Tuesday in the Republican-controlled Colorado House bolstering gay rights advocates who say they have enough support to pass the measure into law — but the plan still could be thwarted by GOP efforts.
Republican Rep. Cheri Gerou joined Democrats to advance the gay rights bill out of its final committee for consideration by the full chamber.
"This isn't a partisan conversation," Gerou said. "This is, in my mind, this is a basic human rights conversation."
The measure will die if it does not pass an initial vote of the full House before midnight, leaving Democrats racing to finish floor debate and hold such a vote.
The timing of the bill in the final days of the legislative session has created tension.
Supporters gathered at a rally outside the Capitol to pressure the GOP to take action on the bill, chanting "Let them vote!" to Republican lawmakers who control the House.
Gay rights advocates had been nervous Republican opponents would use procedural tactics to run out the clock and kill the bill.
Adding to those fears, Republicans spent an hour debating bills that have yet to clear the House and don't have enough time to pass before the session ends Wednesday.
Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty, who opposes the plan, said Democrats intentionally held the bill to force a standoff.
"We all know that it's a heated public policy issue to begin with and with the Senate Democrats sitting on it for 110 days, they've really turned it into a manufactured crisis here at the end of session," he said.
Rep. Mark Ferrandino, the Democrats' leader in the House and a gay lawmaker sponsoring the bill, disagreed, saying the reason the bill took so long in the Senate is because supporters were trying to get Republican support.
"The manufactured crisis is one he's manufacturing," Ferrandino said of McNulty.
Republicans also have added a dose of uncertainty to the bill Tuesday by passing amendments Democrats oppose.
The changes provide exemptions for religious organizations and mental health professionals in providing services to same-sex couples. Democrats say those provisions are potentially discriminatory.
The amendments could still be stripped by the full House, but not without time-consuming wrangling.
If the measure passes, it would underscore the dramatic shift in opinion in a state where voters banned gay marriage in 2006, while rejecting domestic partnerships for same-sex couples that same year.
Republicans have a 33-32 voting edge in the House, but the bill has enough votes to clear the chamber. The Democratic-led Senate already passed the bill.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper supports the bill. If the legislation passes, Colorado would join more than a dozen states that have either civil unions or allow gay marriage, including several that moved to add the protections this year.
The legislation would give same-sex couples rights similar to marriage, including enhanced inheritance and parental rights, and the ability to be involved in partner's medical decisions.
Colorado's debate comes as gay rights are in the national spotlight. North Carolina voters were expected to decide Tuesday on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. And Vice President Joe Biden said over the weekend he is "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex married couples getting the same rights at heterosexual married couples.
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Senate Bill 2: http://goo.gl/GR9y4