DENVER– The bill to sanction same-sex civil unions died in the House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee after more than two hours of emotional testimony by proponents and opponents on Monday night.
The bill, now dubbed HB S-1006, failed on a 5-4 vote split along party lines – a faster demise than its travels through the 120-day regular session that ended May 9.
The original bill that garnered so much attention during the regular session, Senate Bill 2, passed swiftly through Senate committees and then, lingered – some speculated it was a political strategy – until it finally was sent to the House in the last 10 days of the session.
The special session, titled the “Extraordinary Session” on the Colorado General Assembly website, was called by Democrat Governor John Hickenlooper last week after the bill and another estimated 30 bills were left unheard on Tuesday, the night before the final day of the regular session.
House Speaker Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch) said last week that the governor called the three-day special session that cost an estimated $75,000 for the sole purpose of passing the controversial measure. McNulty and other Republicans said the word “spouse” in the language of the bill suggested it was same-sex marriage masquerading as civil unions.
“The history books will be written soon on what happened in Colorado, today, and what happened during the regular session,” Ferrandino told the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Monday night.
Ferrandino, who sponsored the bill with Senator Pat Steadman (D-Denver) said, “The history books will look favorably upon this committee if we allow the Democratic process to work and this gets an up-or-down vote on the House floor.”
Citing historical civil rights battles, Ferrandino said, “When the last people were standing in the way and saying we should have segregation or we shouldn’t allow women to vote, they all thought they were right. But history looks back on that – not as people that were right, but people that were wrong… You have the opportunity to do what is right and stand for equal rights for all families inColorado.”
Before the vote of committee members, the statements about the bill were equally compelling and compassionate.
“I have to avoid two things – cussing and crying,” said Rep. Lois Court (D-Denver), who began to choke up in saying, “I’m proud to have my name as a co-sponsor on this bill. I’m very proud that my name is second to yours on this bill, Representative Ferrandino.”
“I’m the proud father of one son who happens to be gay,” said Rep. Don Coram (R-Montrose). “This is a situation that is very close to my heart and it’s very difficult. I also represent 75,000 people in southwestern Colorado… But what you’re asking me to do here is to invalidate the vote of six years ago.”
In 2006, Colorado voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment to recognize marriage between a man and a woman, and that same year rejected Referendum I that would have sanctioned same-sex civil unions.
“I’m concerned that the gay community is being used as a political pawn,” said Coram, who added that between 2006 – 2010, Democrats held an advantage to pass this bill under then Gov. Bill Ritter and the Democrat majorities in the House and the Senate, but failed to do so.
“The issue didn’t come up,” said Coram. Now that the Republicans have a one-vote majority in the House and Democrats control the Senate, the issue has arisen in an election year. “I think that’s wrong.”
“I think the voters that I represent, they’re vote needs to be respected,” said Coram, who voted against the bill.
“Quite frankly to hear people on this committee talk about – oh, we’re using the gay community as political ploys and that we had a Democratic majority and this didn’t happen… We can’t change everything that didn’t happen in the past in this chamber! We can only make decisions right now!” countered Rep. Crisanta Duran (D-Denver).
“I am ashamed of some of the emails that I have received from people – and some of the hateful, terrible things that they have said about this issue. And maybe I’m just young, but one day we are going to be on the right side of history,” said Duran.
The controversial issue spurred opponents such as Colorado for Family Values, Compass Colorado and other groups to send blast emails and robocalls criticizing Hickenlooper’s decision to convene the special session to debate a divisive social issue.
In an email to supporters, House Majority Leader Amy Stephens (R-Colorado Springs) once again stated her opposition to the bill – in response to outrageous rumors to the contrary fanned by supporters of her House District 19 primary opponent state Rep.Marsha Looper (R-Calhan).
Across the aisle, proponents including Ferrandino, ProgressNow Colorado Executive Director Joanne Kron, Colorado Springs Pride and Denver City Councilwoman Robin Kniech turned the rejection of the bill into a fundraising drive to defeat Republicans at the polls in November.