Civil-unions battle uncivil in Colorado

May 16, 2012

By Valerie Richardson-The Washington Times

DENVER — Even with President Obama “evolving” his way to support of gay marriage, the politics of the issue are playing out in complex and contradictory ways in the states, with potentially large consequences for the vote in November.

The 2012 state legislative session began with gay-rights advocates opposing an “everything-but-marriage” law in Washington state and ended with them supporting an “everything-but-marriage” bill in Colorado.

Colorado House Speaker Frank McNulty became a target for the gay-rights movement Monday when he effectively killed a bill to legalize same-sex civil unions by assigning it to an unfriendly committee during this week’s legislative special session.

Five months earlier, however, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire won plaudits from the gay-rights movement when she called the state’s domestic-partners law “a version of the discriminatory ‘separate but equal’ argument of the past.”

The difference, of course, lies in the context. Mrs. Gregoire is a Democrat who wanted to see the state’s domestic-partners law replaced by same-sex marriage, while Mr. McNulty is a Republican in a state with no such laws.

The fight in Colorado could have outsized consequences, as the state and its nine electoral votes have emerged as a key prize in the presidential battle this fall. The failed drive to approve civil unions could wind up energizing the base voters of both parties in the state.

Jace Woodrum, executive director of the gay-rights group One Colorado, said that pushing same-sex marriage in Colorado would have been a stretch, given that the state has a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

“The process of changing constitutional language is difficult,” said Ms. Woodrum “and there’s a question of whether Colorado is ready for that. But people in Colorado are ready for civil unions. Poll after poll shows the public overwhelmingly in favor.”

The Colorado civil-unions bill went from being an afterthought to taking center stage last week with the convergence of two unexpected events: Mr. Obama announced that he favored same-sex marriage, and the House Judiciary Committee approved the bill after a Republican legislator switched her vote.

With the bill headed to the House floor, where vote-counters expected it to pass, Mr. McNulty allowed the clock to expire on the session rather than bring it up for a vote. Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, immediately called for a special session to give the bill another hearing, but this time Mr. McNulty assigned it to the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, where it died again on a party-line vote.

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