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Colo. civil unions bill passes biggest test yet

Associated Press Modified: May 3, 2012 at 11:16 pm •  Published: May 3, 2012

DENVER (AP) — Gay couples campaigning for civil unions in Colorado have claimed their biggest victory yet as a key Republican-led House committee advanced a bill Thursday that it had previously opposed.

The newfound support means Colorado is likely to become the latest of more than a dozen states to provide legal protections to gay couples similar to marriage.

Rep. Mark Ferrandino, the Democrats' leader in the House and a gay lawmaker who sponsored the bill, said before the vote that he and other people just want equal rights. He noted the law books behind the Republican chairman overseeing the House Judiciary Committee's hearing.

"All we're asking is for equal access to those books that are behind you Mr. Chairman," Ferrandino said.

The measure approved Thursday evening faces two more committee votes, but sponsors are optimistic they have enough support to get the legislation to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is firmly behind the plan. The measure has already passed the Senate.

At one point, dozens in the audience stood up when the committee chairman asked for supporters to stand up because the first phase of testimony was ending and they wouldn't be able to speak.

The 6-5 vote came after hours of emotional testimony from gay couples who said they're vulnerable because they don't have the rights afforded to married people. One Republican, Rep. B.J. Nikkel, joined Democrats in approving the bill.

"To me it became an issue of fairness, in terms of trying to treat everybody equally and giving the same rights that I have," said Nikkel, who was one of the "no" votes last year when the plan died in the same committee on a 6-5 party line vote.

Opponents argue civil unions undermine traditional marriage and that voters expressed their position on the issue when they banned same-sex marriage in 2006.

Byron Babione, with the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative group that stands for religious freedom, echoed the concerns of some of the opponents when he said civil unions are "marriage without the name."

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