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Civil unions passes Senate, sponsor hopes House lemmings won't jump off cliff

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Later today, the Colorado Senate is expected to formally approve a bill that would legalize civil unions. Of course, the Senate also approved a civil unions measure last year, only to see the proposal die in a House committee, with all six Republican members voting against it. Can it avoid a similar fate this time around? Senator Pat Steadman, the sponsor in 2011 and this year, is hopeful but knows the potential pitfalls all too well.

The bill's passage "is like history repeating itself," Steadman says, adding, "The momentum has steadily been building for years. Each day, we're closer to our goal."

As this comment implies, Steadman isn't outwardly gloomy about the measure's prospects in the House. In this words, "I'm the eternal optimist -- so I'd like to think it's possible for the bill to pass the House this year."

That won't happen unless more members of the Republican majority in the House spend some of their political capital on behalf of civil unions -- and there's no guarantee they will. In an interview about civil unions in January, Steadman told us he was looking for a House Republican to co-sponsor the bill but had yet to find one to do so -- and he never did. Moreover, the Senate debate on the issue featured plenty of Republican-delivered invective.

"I think there are some folks who are going out of their way to thwart the will of the voters and hold back the steady march of progress," Steadman maintains -- and when asked to name some examples of this phenomenon, he replies, "He knows who he is."

He may, but others may have a tougher time distinguishing among the candidates for this honor. The 9News coverage of the bill's de facto passage yesterday quotes Senator Scott Renfroe as saying, "Our Founding Fathers were very clear about what they said about morality and religion, and where our country is today and where they wanted our country to go where it would be if we did not embrace those pillars within our country.... My question I have for Senator Steadman is: What's left that distinguishes marriage, as marriage? What's left?" And that same piece also features Senator Shawn Mitchell offering this: "What was presented as respect for diversity of human rights becomes instead a press for conformity, an effort to stamp out different opinions, to stamp out values and beliefs that other people hold deeply."

Will pressure from party heavyweights like these prevent House Republicans who feel differently from taking a stand in favor of civil unions? "I think those dynamics are still in place," Steadman concedes. "Imagine the pressure the thousandth lemming feels as it, too, leaps over the edge of the cliff."

As for the strategy to overcome House opposition, Steadman answers, "Target the heartstrings. I'm fairly certain they all still have hearts."

There's also the universality of the subject. "This isn't a bill that was sparked by one particular headline," he points out. "Often, we see the legislature do that, where there's one story in the headlines and we write a law because of it. But this is a law directed at everyday life for people across the state."

Civil union supporters in the House will get the chance to make this argument next week, when a House committee is expected to consider the bill. The step after that will be even harder to take, but Steadman and his supporters stand ready to do so.

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More from our Politics archive: "Civil unions: One Colorado director Brad Clark glad for GOP group in favor of them."

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