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Colorado House 'kill committee' rejects civil union legislation

May 14, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Houston — A last-ditch effort by Colorado legislators to pass civil unions legislation failed late Monday when a Republican-controlled House "kill committee" rejected it along party lines, 5-4.  

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper had called a special session to address civil unions after House leaders blocked the legislation from reaching a vote before they finished their regular session last Tuesday.

At a news conference Monday, Hickenlooper said he thought the bill, which had made it out of a House committee before and passed the Democratic-dominated Senate, had enough bipartisan support to pass in a floor vote. The governor indicated he would sign it if given the opportunity and denied allegations that he was in league with President Obama operatives with a gay marriage agenda.

Still, supporters knew the legislation was doomed as soon as Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty, who opposed civil unions and the special session, assigned the bill to the conservative State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee early Monday. Republicans hold a one-vote majority in the House, 33-32. 

Supporters spent an hour testifying before the panel late Monday in a room packed with opponents wearing white T-shirts that read, "Loving all, protecting marriage." Same-sex couples talked about why the legislation mattered to them, how it would grant them rights similar to married couples, including letting them make medical decisions for each other and their children. 

Then opponents, including a lawyer for the conservative Scottsdale, Ariz., based Alliance Defense Fund and a representative of the Archdiocese of Denver, talked about how the legislation would reverse the will of the people expressed in a 2006 state constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. They said they see a slippery slope between legalizing civil unions and gay marriage.

In the end, the Republican-dominated committee sided with the legislation's opponents.

Even Republican Rep. Don Coram, who has a gay son, told the Denver Post that he couldn't vote for the bill, citing the 2006 marriage amendment.

Brad Clark, executive director of Denver-based One Colorado, a statewide gay and lesbian advocacy group, told The Times: “We’re incredibly disappointed that the House leadership killed this bill. We believe the Democratic  process was abused.

“The governor did his part. There was more than enough votes to pass this bill,” Clark said. “The speaker of the House sent this to a 'kill committee' because he wanted to circumvent the process.”

House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, who sponsored the civil unions legislation as the state's first openly gay legislator, tweeted his frustration late Monday.

"A sad day killed on a party line vote in kill committee," he wrote. "The process was thwarted Tuesday and again today."

Moments after the late-night vote, other Colorado Democrats were sending out fundraising appeals, bent on upending Republicans' single-vote House majority.

“We’re now focusing all our efforts on November to elect a pro-equality majority,” Clark said.

And Coloradans for Freedom, which bills itself as an organization of conservatives supporting civil unions, pledged to help elect Republicans who agree with them.

Opponents of civil unions planned a "rally and prayer for marriage" at Tuesday noon on the Capitol steps in Denver, according to a spokeswoman for Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family.

"There is a difference of opinion on this in Colorado," Speaker McNulty told reporters on the House floor, where he was confronted by a supporter of the legislation after the vote. He responded, according to the Associated Press,  "I don't think that we would find resolution between you and I."

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