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Colo. Civil Unions Bill Goes Down in Defeat

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Apr 4, 2011
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Colorado lawmakers killed a bill that would have provided gay and lesbian families in that state with legal protections in the form of civil unions, reported local newspaper the Denver Post on March 31.

That same evening, a subcommittee in the state House of Representatives voted not to advance the bill. The vote followed party lines, the Post article said, with a Republican majority prevailing.

A hearing on the bill took place for about six and a half hours prior to the vote. The Post characterized the debate as "part gay group therapy, part Bible study," and said that among those who spoke in favor of the bill were leaders of the faith community, as well as gays and lesbians--including two openly gay legislators.

"This is not a radical concept," State Rep. Mark Ferrandino testified. "It’s a mainstream concept." Added the lawmaker, "This does not end marriage."

Opponents told a different story, envisioning the collapse of civilization and a new tax to pay for AIDS patients, reported On Top Magazine in an April 1 story.

"Given that Colorado is home to several leading Christian conservative groups, it wasn’t much of a surprise that the anti-gay rhetoric of opponents was at full tilt during the committee’s 6-hour session," On Top Magazine noted.

Anti-gay Christian legal organization the Alliance Defense Fund posited that civil unions would usher in same-sex marriage equality, despite the fact that the Colorado state constitution was amended by voters in 2006 to bar gay and lesbian families from accessing legal marriage, the story reported.

Discredited psychologist Paul Cameron--who heads the anti-gay Family Research Institute--also made grandiose claims, declaring that a steep "AIDS tax" would result from civil unions and asserting that homosexuality is a "habit" that gays could choose to change.

"Now we live in a world in which 300,000 U.S. gays have died because of their habit connected with HIV. We’re paying this tax because of their HIV," Cameron said. "Every Coloradoan now has basically a $112 AIDS tax from gays in the United States," Cameron, the author of a number of anti-gay studies, added.

Cameron’s studies have been condemned as biased and unscientific.

"A sensible society always asks people to direct their sexuality in such a way that it doesn’t harm but in fact helps procreate society," Cameron added. "If you vote [in favor of the civil unions bill], you are going to help end--not tomorrow, the sun will come up--you will help to end this most successful civilization."

The bill was defeated 6-5.

"Republicans and leadership said we were going to get a fair hearing," said State Rep. Ferrandino, WGNO-TV in New Orleans reported on April 1. "It’s too bad some of these Republicans didn’t have the courage to take on leaders in their own party, because I think, deep down, some of them support us," Ferrandino added.

Three of the five Democrats on the committee joined the six Republicans in opposing a plan to amend the bill in a way that would put the question of civil unions for gay and lesbian families before voters as a ballot initiative in the next election.

At least one lawmaker assumed that Colorado voters had shut the door to civil unions when they voted to amend the state constitution and deny marriage to gays.

"A lot of the folks four-and-a-half years ago said no, they didn’t support that, and I just didn’t feel it was right for me as a legislator to go against what the will of the people was just four-and-a-half years ago," said GOP State Rep. Brian Delgrosso.

Other legislators--some of them Republicans--noted that the bill would fit with the ideal of a smaller, less intrusive government that permits greater personal responsibility.

Indeed, one recent poll found that just over 60% of the state’s Republicans were in favor of granting civil unions to gay and lesbian couples. Factoring in the state’s Democratic voters, the percentage of the general populace that was in favor of the bill was significantly higher.

"Today’s vote was out of touch with everyday Colorado voters," Colorado One head Brad Clark noted. "With 72% of Coloradans in support of civil unions, House Republicans are out of the mainstream."

The article noted that because the House is dominated by Republicans by a one-seat majority, that party automatically is given a majority on all of the House’s committees, ensuring that Democratic bills can be put down. But the civil unions vote is seen as likely to arouse gay billionaire businessman Tim Gill, whose organization supports progressive and GLBT-friendly lawmakers.

The article posited that Gill would react by funneling considerable financial resources to Democratic opponents of the House Republicans who killed the bill, an expectation shared by Gill’s attorney Ted Trimpa.

"It’s very likely there will be consequences for not allowing full debate and consideration by the full House," Trimpa told the media.

Ferrandino said that had the bill advanced to the floor of the full House, the votes were in place to get it passed, the Denver Post reported.

"Fifty years from now, when gay marriage is finally legal and school kids are learning about civil rights in the United States, they’ll ask their parents the same questions about how people could be so bigoted and ignorant, and why politicians protected those bigots," wrote Jonathan Shikes in an April 1 Denver Westword blog posting titled, "The GOP members of the House Judiciary Committee will go down in history -- as shmucks."

"And those parents will be able to open their history books (or Kindles) and look back on people like representatives Brian DelGrosso, B.J. Nikkel, Bob Gardner, Mark Barker, Mark Waller and Jerry Sonnenberg and explain why."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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