News Column

Same-sex Civil Unions Bill Dies a Quick, Second Death In Colorado

May 15, 2012

John Schroyer

Gay marriage

Colorado lawmakers killed a rejuvenated effort to allow same-sex civil unions during the first day of a special session called to consider that and other bills.

A Republican-controlled State House committee listened to nearly three hours of testimony before dumping the bill, which died on a 5-4 party line vote. It's the second time the GOP has killed the measure in six days, first during a regular session of the General Assembly and Monday during a freshly-opened special session.

The arguments Monday were the same as they have been through the entire legislative session.

Backers of the bill testified the measure would extend civil rights beyond traditional couples. The supporters said denying those rights is tantamount to racial discrimination, and that gay couples can provide just as healthy an environment for children as any straight couple.

"By not passing this bill, what we're saying is, you can go adopt abused kids, but we're not going to give you the same rights that the same parents who abused and neglected them have," said the bill's sponsor, House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver.

Several opponents testified that the measure is a Democratic campaign tactic that essentially allows gay marriage, which they said is wrong morally and on several other fronts.

"The connotation that comes to this country boy is that this is same-sex marriage," said Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, who said much of the rights at issue are already protected under the state's designated beneficiary contract.

Designated beneficiary contracts can be taken out by gay couples as a legal step toward various rights that married couples have.

But those contracts are not nearly as comprehensive or as binding as civil unions would be, said Beth Bryant, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Bar Association. Committee Republicans, however, disagreed, and said much of the bill duplicated what was already in law books.

The civil unions legislation survived for all but a day of the general Assembly's regular session.

The measure sailed through the Senate and passed several House committees with support of GOP rebels before a Republican filibuster killed its chances of getting a floor vote. The session ended with the measure languishing in the House.

Gov. John Hickenlooper made passing a civil union measure a top priority of the special session, which is also considering several other bills. The hearing Monday packed the largest hearing room in the capitol -- the state's old Supreme Court chamber.

But civil unions had a short life in its second turn before the Legislature.

When the special session opened Monday, the bill was sent to the GOP-run House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, a venue that has been traditionally used by the party controlling the House to scuttle the other side's legislation.

The committee gathered Monday afternoon and heard lengthy testimony from both sides before sending to a fate that seemed predetermined from the start.

Democrats, who are in the House minority by a single vote, lost the committee hearing by a single vote.

After the hearing Democrats quickly held up the demise of civil unions as a campaign issue, a wedge they will jab Republicans with. The GOP has countered that the Democrats raised the civil union issue for political rather than civil rights reasons.

The Republican stance on the bill makes it unlikely to resurface even if it is retrieved from the grave by the Senate.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have plenty left on their plates for the special session.

Lawmakers will mull of water projects aimed at easing drought woes, along with an unemployment insurance measure.

The House State, Veterans and Military Committee was working late Monday night on a controversial measure that would set legal limits for drivers who use marijuana that's tantamount to drunken driving laws. If it gets the thumbs up from the committee, it may also be heard on the House floor late Monday night.

Lawmakers will also likely pass a referendum that would allow voters to repeal state laws now deemed unconstitutional, including a 1992 voter-approved measure that forbids local governments from passing ordinances to protect gay rights. The measure has already been approved by the Senate on an initial vote.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Source: (c)2012 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

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