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Benefits for gay partners get initial OK in Senate

Lawmaker calls measure affecting state workers a fairness and equity issue

Published February 24, 2009 at 12:05 a.m.

The legislature's first openly gay lawmaker appealed to her colleagues Monday to support extending health care benefits to the partners of gay state workers.

Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, called it a fairness and equity issue, not a prelude to gay marriage.

Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, said she did not agree with the comments of her Republican colleagues, including one who quoted the Scriptures and linked homosexuality and murder as sins that should not be allowed by law.

But Spence noted that state workers are facing furloughs and going without raises to help close the budget gap. In light of that, she said, "I don't think this is the time" for a measure that would increase state government's health care costs.

"For gay and lesbian state employees, when is the right time?" Veiga asked.

"There is never going to be a right time to add these benefits for most of your colleagues, and you know that," she said. "If today is not the right time, then you've got to tell me when because equality is equality is equality, regardless of when we do it."

The Senate gave initial approval to Senate Bill 88. Later this week, it will take a final vote on the measure, which defines a domestic partner as "an adult over the age of 18, who is of the same gender as the employee, with whom the employee is in a committed relationship of a least one year with the intent for the relationship to last indefinitely."

The yes vote Monday came over protests that the measure violates the will of the voters.

Coloradans in 2006 approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and rejected a measure that would have given gays many of the rights and responsibilities of married couples.

"I find it breathtaking that we are here just a little over two years later . . . saying, 'Let's ignore that, and let's go down the road that the people of Colorado rejected," said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud.

But Veiga argued nothing in the bill is about marriage or gay rights.

"This brings no two people, myself, my partner, no other gay and lesbian partner, closer to walking down that aisle," she said. "It provides no tax benefits. It provides no other benefits. This is not about marriage. This is about health care. This is an equality issue and a fairness issue."

Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, quoted the Bible during his speech against the bill. He called homosexuality an "offense to God."

"When we create laws that go against biblically what we are supposed to stand for, we are allowing to go forward a sin," Renfroe said. "We are taking sins and making them to be legally OK. That is wrong. I'm not saying this is the only sin out there. We have murder. . . . We don't make laws making murder legal."

Veiga told Renfroe she respected his beliefs but said they were not her beliefs.

"I will stand here today and tell you that God also created me, and the last time I checked, I am who I am," she said.

Veiga said one-third of the states and 17 Colorado cities and counties already offer domestic-partnership benefits.

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