DENVER - The Colorado Senate gave initial approval Friday to a civil unions bill, blocking changes that Republicans wanted to make to the bill.
The vote fell nearly down party lines. Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango cast the only Republican vote in favor.
"I believe this bill supports family values," said Roberts. "I know while there's not a lot of Republican votes for the bill in the building right now, there are many Republicans outside the building who also think this is the right direction."
This debate taps powerful emotions from a core group of Democrats, who want the state to treat same-sex couples like any other families.
"This, colleagues is especially important when things happen that aren't supposed to happen," said Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver.)
Something like that happened recently to civil unions sponsor Pat Steadman. Last summer his partner Dave Misner was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Misner didn't live to see this session when civil unions is almost certain to pass.
"I miss him," Steadman told 9NEWS. "He'd be very proud."
"He was here today," said Sen. Lucia Guzman (D-Denver.) "His spirit was alive and well today."
Against that backdrop, Republicans argued for the spirituality of others.
"Is that what we're really saying," asked Sen. Kevin Lundberg. "That the values held by individuals in this state will be cast aside?"
Republicans failed twice to add a "conscience clause" to protect people with religious objections to homosexuality.
One amendment was written broadly enough to protect businesses that embrace religious principles. Another was tailored specifically to religious adoption agencies who don't want to place children with gay couples.
Without such language, opponents argue the bill expands gay rights at the expense of religious rights:
"Slavery was not abolished for blacks by enslaving whites," said Sen. Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs.)
Supporters of civil unions compare religious exemptions to Jim Crow laws.
They say anybody providing a public service should have to treat gay couples equally.
Steadman offered a suggestion for those who don't like it:
"Get thee to a nunnery and live there then. Go live a monastic life," said Steadman on the Senate floor. "Away from modern life away from the people you can't see as equals to yourself."
GOP Senators also offered, but failed to attach amendments aimed at referring the issue to Colorado voters, who passed a ban on gay marriage in 2006.
The bill is expected to clear a final Senate vote on Monday. It will then head to the House of Representatives, where civil union supporters say it also has enough support to pass without the sort of amendments offered by GOP senators.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)