Tuesday, February 24, 2009

House Clears Domestic Partnership Bill

A bill that would expand open the door for individuals to name their domestic partners as beneficiaries under a wide variety of state benefit programs, and that also would designate such unmarried partners as eligible to inherit in the absence of a will and sue for wrongful death, gained final approval in the House Tuesday.

HB 1260 does not limit its impact to the unmarried domestic partners designated by individuals. The bill allows any two people, whether related or not and whether or not married, to enter into a "designated beneficiary agreement."

Under current state law, the right to inherit property from a person who died without a will is limited to his or her spouse, children, and other blood relatives. The bill would extend such "intestate succession" rights to unmarried domestic partners.

Similarly, the measure would grant a domestic partner the same right to sue for wrongful death as current law grants a spouse or other blood relative.

It would also, if enacted into law, allow the domestic partner of an ill person to make medical decisions on that person's behalf. Under current law such decision-making authority can be granted by means of a legal document prepared as part of an estate planning process.

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said he is concerned that these provisions might contradict Referendum I, which the voters rejected in 2006.

"It extends rights under workers compensation, under pension funds, it gives standing under wrongful death and so forth," Gardner said. "What I don’t think is appropriate is to take something that looks very much like a domestic partnership or civil union an extending those rights by a contract between two people and just making those law and saying we have to do that without giving the citizens of Colorado a right to vote on it.”

Gardner says he thinks the bill should have been amended to remove its "emergency clause," which prevents it from being the subject of a referendum, before the House approved it.

"I haven’t said that I think it necessarily would be wrong to pass the bill," Gardner said. "I think it’s wrong to pass the bill with a safety clause in it because I don’t think we can make a straight face case that it’s necessary to do what this bill does for the immediate preservation of peace and safety.”

Gardner made clear that he does not oppose the bill because it grants certain legal rights to same-sex domestic partners.

"The fact that same sex partners make that choice, I don’t agree with it but I think in large part it’s not the government’s business,” he said.

Proponents say the bill is not aimed exclusively at gay couples, but instead removes impediments to choices about beneficiaries under pensions, workers compensation policies and estate plans that now exist in the law. They point out that nothing in the measure is specifically limited to same-sex domestic partners.

HB 1260 would not compel the state government, or any local government, to allow employees to designate a same-sex domestic partner as a beneficiary under employee benefit programs.

However, a bill under consideration in the Senate would compel the state government to make the option available to its employees.

That measure, SB 88, gained final approval in the Senate today on a 22-11 vote. Republicans Ken Kester of Las Animas and Al White of Hayden joined majority Democrats in voting "yes."

HB 1260 was approved on a 41-24 vote. Republicans Cheri Gerou of Evergreen, Don Marostica of Loveland, Tom Massey of Poncha Springs, Kevin Priola of Henderson, and Ellen Roberts of Durango joined all but two Democrats in support of the measure.