Colo. Republicans Vow to Contest Civil Unions Bill Lacking Religious Exemptions

Colorado's Republican lawmakers are vowing to contest a recent bill that legalizes civil unions among same-sex couples in the state, arguing that it does not provide religious exemptions and therefore violates the religious freedom of both individuals and organizations opposed to same-sex unions. 

The "Colorado Civil Union Act" passed the House on Tuesday with a 39-26 vote, nearly one month after it also passed the state's Senate vote, and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has vowed to sign the bill into law in the upcoming days. 

"We won't get to debate this again here, but we will debate this in a court of law," Rep. Lori Saine (R-Dacono) told The Denver Post, referencing the bill's lack of religious exemptions. 

The bill was reportedly debated for nearly four hours on Tuesday among the 65-member House as Republicans in the body attempted to add exemptions for religious conscience among individuals and organizations, including adoption agencies.

The Republicans in the House also suggested the bill be amended so that the state's citizens could vote on civil unions.

"Those religious values, the highest of all values, in my mind, are important," Rep. Bob Gardner (R-El Paso) said during Tuesday's debate, according to The Associated Press.

Another Republican representative, Kevin Priola (R-Henderson), reportedly argued during the debate that this bill represents a slippery slope for the traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.

"This bill is about fundamentally changing the institution of marriage going forward," Rep. Priola said, according to AP.

The state's civil union's bill was also proposed last year, but it died on the House floor days before the 2012 legislative session ended.

Although those who voted in favor of Tuesday's bill, including the five openly gay Democrats in the House, have celebrated their win as a major accomplishment, other pro-same-sex marriage activists argue that it is not enough.

"Of course civil unions and domestic partnerships, no matter how complete the package of protections, are not marriage," Jennifer Pizer, law and policy project director of same-sex marriage organization Lambda Legal, said in a statement, according to NBC.

"True equality is the freedom to marry the one you love and be included under the same laws as your neighbors. It is time to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage, and Lambda Legal and many others will continue to fight for that goal," she added.

Once Gov. Hickenlooper signs the bill into law, Colorado will become the sixth state to allow civil unions for same-sex couples.

The state's civil union bill grants same-sex couples many spousal benefits and protections, including those relating to healthcare, legal claims, health insurance, survivor benefits, unemployment, and adoption, among other things.

Currently, nine states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized same-sex marriage, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Same-sex couples cannot marry in Colorado because of a voter-approved 2006 constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

Given that it receives its expected signature from Gov. Hickenlooper, the "Colorado Civil Union Act" will become effective as law on May 1.