Tensions high after civil unions defeat in Colorado

Ivan Moreno
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – Opponents of same-sex unions rallied at the Colorado Capitol on Tuesday as tensions remained high one day after state House Republicans rejected a proposal to provide gay couples rights similar to marriage.

Dozens of people saying they support traditional marriage cheered Republican lawmakers and thanked state House Speaker Frank McNulty, crediting him for the defeat of the heavily-debated civil union legislation.

Gay rights advocates also maintained a presence at the Capitol, as a man with a horn loudly heckled McNulty as he addressed the crowd.

McNulty spoke through the noise, urging Republicans to spread the message that his party will protect traditional marriage.

It’s becoming clear that both parties plan to campaign on the issue of civil unions versus traditional marriage in November. Fundraising emails have gone out with each party seeking support based on its stance regarding the failed civil union bill.

“It does not end here today,” McNulty said. “Go back to your communities, go back to your neighborhoods, go back to your churches and let them know that the fight continues, that we’re engaged in this fight and that we will continue it today, through the next legislative session and every time that marriage is attacked.”

At the same time, Democrats blasted McNulty for the demise of the civil union proposal, which failed on a 5-4 party line vote in a Republican House committee on the first day of a special session called by Gov. John Hickenlooper in an attempt to save the legislation. The Democratic governor has said keeping lawmakers at the Capitol was necessary to address a “fundamental question of fairness and civil rights” on whether gay couples deserve rights similar to married couples.

A civil union bill introduced during the regular session passed the Democratic-led Senate, before clearing three GOP-controlled committees in the House. There was enough support to get the bill to the governor’s desk, but Republicans filibustered to prevent the legislation from coming to a vote, killing it and several others because they missed a key deadline last week.

Rep. Mark Ferrandino, the Democrats’ leader in the House and a gay lawmaker who co-sponsored the civil union bill, tweeted a picture of a rainbow-colored sign that read “Equal Rights.” It was jammed into a trash bin outside the Capitol, and Ferrandino said that’s what McNulty “did to equal rights.”

McNulty and Ferrandino have said they’re good friends, but Ferrandino said their relationship had become strained recently.

Democrats have sent several fundraising emails over the last week, blaming Republicans for stopping civil unions and telling supporters they need to control the Legislature to pass the bill. One email from Ferrandino says that the House needs new leadership “that will end the gridlock and bring equality to our state.”

Republicans control the House on a 33-32 margin. And the GOP campaign message is telling supporters that Republicans need more Legislative control to protect conservative values.

GOP supporters on Tuesday held signs that read, “Traditional Marriage, Pass It On,” and “Protect Marriage.”

“I think this is one of those issues that’s coming up, and I think as far as it goes, people are going to make choices hopefully based on their conscience,” said Shannon Hooper, 65, who held a sign reading, “We Support Traditional Marriage.”

Further inflaming tensions, the same Republican committee that defeated civil unions also killed a proposal Tuesday that would ask voters to repeal three laws that have been ruled unconstitutional.

The laws related to campaign finance and to a 1992 voter-approved ban on municipal anti-discrimination laws to protect gays. Four years later, the U.S. Supreme Court said the law, known as Amendment 2, was unconstitutional, but not before some branded Colorado a “hate state.”

Ferrandino accused Republicans of working against progress on gay rights, even when it came to erasing laws from the Colorado Constitution that are unenforceable.

“There’s no explanation, other than they are OK with the language of Amendment 2 being in our Constitution,” he said.

Rep. Jim Kerr, the Republican who leads the committee, disagreed.

“That had absolutely nothing to do with it. We’re looking at a 20-year-old piece of legislation that someone has already deemed unconstitutional,” he said.