DENVER — A same-sex “marriage” bill has gone down to narrow defeat in the Colorado House of Representatives, drawing applause from Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput for being pro-family.

At the same time, homosexual rights groups have condemned it for being anti-family.

Calling on Catholics to thank their legislators, Archbishop Chaput said, “It took courage, especially in an environment of bitter criticism.”

A “sexual minorities coalition” called One Colorado, civil rights and left-wing groups, was soon out with a video promising “We Will Keep Fighting” and repeatedly stressing that the bill’s fate was decided by “one Republican vote.”

The Colorado Civil Union Act would have added the words “civil union partner” to every piece of Colorado legislation pertaining to marriage where the word “spouse” now appears. It would have allowed same-sex couples, as well as blood relatives, to declare one another dependents or beneficiaries of state benefits.

“It’s same-sex ‘marriage’ under a different name,” said Jennifer Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, the political arm of the state’s archdiocese and two dioceses. “Proponents said it didn’t affect marriage because it used the words ‘civil union.’ But, as Archbishop Chaput said, ‘It’s a distinction without a difference.’”

Jessica Haverkate, executive director of Colorado Family Action, agreed. “It was a lookalike bill.  They said this would be enough but our experience from previous legislation is that nothing will be enough until they have same-sex ‘marriage.’”

A Lookalike Bill

The bill was easily passed (23-12) in the Colorado Senate, with its Democratic majority. But in the House, with a one-seat Republican majority, the bill was sent to the Judiciary Committee, where Republicans have a 6-5 edge. After hearing eight hours of testimony, the committee voted along party lines, defeating it by a single vote. Had the bill gone to the House floor, both opponents and proponents believe it would have received the support of enough Republicans to be passed.

The bill’s proponents have already vowed to reintroduce it, which they cannot do before 2012.

Archbishop Chaput, in the same column in which he asked Catholics to thank the committee members who defeated the bill, also argued the bill was not, as its proponents had argued, about “basic rights for homosexual persons. Those rights are already guaranteed under law. Nor is it finally about love or personal equality. Civil union ensures neither of these any better than marriage does.”

Instead, Archbishop Chaput insisted, the bill was intended to legitimize homosexual activity, which “most societies and religious traditions have found problematic” and “morally troubling not because they are ‘haters’ or ‘frightened’ or ‘bigots’ or ‘uneducated’  but because they’ve carefully thought through the implications for society at large.”

And what are those implications? “Same-sex unions, whatever legal form they take, cannot create new life,” said Archbishop Chaput. “But they do copy marriage and the family and in the process they compete with and diminish the status of both.”

Proponents of the bill, led by Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, and One Colorado, presented the judiciary committee with a parade of attractive homosexual couples of both genders as well as supportive parents and clergy, arguing that they deserved the same rights as other kinds of families, and that denying them was “anti-family.”

As well, the proponents made heavy use of a poll conducted for them in early February by Public Policy Polling that reported fully 72% of Coloradans surveyed approved of either same sex marriage (40%) or civil unions (32%). This led to the claim that the six Republicans on the judiciary committee were “anti-democratic.”

Though One Colorado staff did not respond to requests for an interview, Executive Director Brad Clark said in news release that the vote “was out of touch with everyday Colorado voters. With 72% of Coloradans in support of civil unions, House Republicans are out of the mainstream. Once again, they have turned their backs on Colorado families and kids.”

‘Suspicious’ Polling

Haverkate said that Public Policy Polling’s poll was very suspicious for two reasons. First, when Colorado Family Action heard about it they commissioned their own poll. With a sample twice that of Public Policy Polling’s, it showed 46% opposed and 41% in favor of civil unions. “We expected they would use their poll against the members of the judicial committee, some of whom we let know our own results.”

The second reason the Public Policy Polling results were suspect, though never seriously questioned in media reports, was that in 2006 a majority of Coloradans supported an initiative amending the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage and defeated a referendum that would have recognized civil unions. “Coloradans made a very, very strong statement just four years ago,” Haverkate said.

Both her organization and the Colorado Catholic Conference urged their political networks to let their politicians know where they stood on the issue. “Marriage is meant to be for a man and a woman, for the creation of life,” said the conference’s Kraska.

“Marriage isn’t just about adults,” echoed Haverkate. “It’s about children. And these other relationships they are calling families just aren’t the best ways to raise children.”

Register correspondent Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.