By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - Supporters of same-sex civil unions in Colorado on Friday vowed to keep fighting after a bill that would grant certain legal rights to gays and lesbians was defeated by a Republican-controlled committee in the state legislature.
"We are going to rally our community together," Jessica Cook Woodrum, spokeswoman for the gay and lesbian advocacy group One Colorado told Reuters. "We are not going to turn our backs on fair-minded Coloradans."
The bill would have allowed gays and lesbians to make medical decisions for their partners and become eligible for insurance and retirement benefits.
Cook Woodrum said "all options are on the table," including re-introducing a similar bill next year, or possibly putting a ballot measure on the issue before voters for a second time.
In 2006, Colorado voters defeated a same-sex marriage ballot initiative.
The House Judiciary Committee killed the measure on a 6-5 party line vote on Thursday, with all five Democrats on the committee voting in favor of the proposal, but all six Republican members voting it down.
The committee heard seven hours of emotional testimony from the bill' s supporters and opponents before casting their votes late Thursday night.
The bill's House sponsor, Democrat Rep. Mark Ferradino, said after the vote that he was "astounded" that the Republicans voted against the bill after listening to gay and lesbian couples who said they merely sought the same rights as married couples.
"I am truly disappointed and disheartened that this bill turned into a partisan issue and died along party lines," he said. "But this is not the end."
But opponents testified that Colorado voters have already spoken on the issue with the 2006 vote. Many religious leaders spoke out against the bill.
Denver's Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput said in a recent column in the archdiocesan newspaper that a civil union law was unnecessary because Colorado law already protects "a variety of non-marital domestic arrangements."
"Attempts to redefine marriage, whether direct or indirect, only serve to weaken the already difficult family structure of our society," he wrote.
The Democratic-controlled Senate passed the measure on March 24 by a 23-12 vote, with unanimous support from Democrats. Three Republican senators voted for the bill.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper said he would have signed the bill had it gotten through the General Assembly.
Gay marriage is legal in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Iowa and the District of Columbia. Most recently, Hawaii approved same-sex civil unions, granting essentially the same rights as marriage to gay couples.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune)