Civil Unions Bill Dies in Special Session

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The effort to revive a bill granting marriage-like rights to same-sex couples failed Monday, on the first day of a special legislative session. While the civil unions effort for this year is over, Colorado Public Radio’s Megan Verlee reports the issue could have repercussions for the November elections.

Here is a transcript of Megan Verlee’s report:

Reporter Megan Verlee: The vote that killed the civil unions bill didn’t take place until 8pm, but really the measure’s fate was written hours earlier, when it was first introduced in the state House. It passed three committees during the regular session, but instead of being sent to any of those...

Frank McNulty: House Bill 1006 is assigned to the committee on State, Veterans, and Military Affairs.

Reporter: That’s House Speaker Frank McNulty, and that panel is nicknamed the “kill committee” because observers say it’s where McNulty sends bills he wants to get rid of. The Speaker says the assignment was intended to keep things moving quickly during the special session, but supporters like Anna Simon told the committee she feared the worst.

Anna Simon: We are not naive, we know that what we say now won’t likely change what you do today. But we want those of you who vote against civil unions to know whom you are hurting.

Reporter: Scores of those people, wearing red, filled seats in the Capitol’s largest hearing room. Civil union opponents were there too, wearing white T-shirts with the words “Loving All … Protecting Marriage.” James Flynn from the Catholic Diocese of Denver:

James Flynn: Today’s special session is a rash reaction to political pressure, obvious political pressure, from special interest groups, some of whom are here today and do not represent the majority of Coloradans.

Reporter: A recent poll actually showed a majority of Coloradans support civil unions. One of them turned out to be Republican committee member Don Coram, who surprised the hearing by announcing:

Don Coram: "I’m the very proud father of one son, who happens to be gay."

Reporter: But while Coram says he doesn't oppose civil unions, he didn’t support the bill, in part because voters in his conservative district don’t, and also:

Coram: I’m concerned that the gay community is being used as a political pawn.

Reporter: Both sides are turning the issue into political fodder. Bill sponsor Mark Ferrandino says voters will remember not just the bill’s death, but how it died - killed last week by Republican stalling tactics and again yesterday through its committee assignment.

Mark Ferrandino: What really galvanizes people and angers people outside of this building were the games, and the shenanigans that were played to make sure that the representatives of the people couldn’t have their voices heard.

Reporter: Democrats are sending out fundraising emails decrying the bill’s fate and asking for help to take back the House majority. At the same time, voters are getting robocalls and hearing radio ads from a conservative group.

Sound of Radio Ad: So why did Democrat Governor Hickenlooper, and his Democrat allies in the statehouse call a special session of the legislature to talk about same sex marriage? I don’t get it.

John Hickenlooper: It’s always hard to figure out how you respond to TV ads or radio ads that distort the truth so significantly.

Reporter: Governor John Hickenlooper says also he called the special session to deal with six other bills that ran out of time during the civil unions standoff. Those are still in play. And the governor says the issue isn’t same sex marriage at all.

Hickenlooper: All we’re saying is, a civil union - we make sure that everyone gets equal rights.

Reporter: Even though the bill died in committee on a party-line vote, it may be remembered for the fact that it got as far as it did. The measure passed three Republican-dominated committees in regular session and had Republican support, if not the vote it needed, last night - something Speaker McNulty acknowledges.

McNulty: Well, I’ve said before, this is an active issue of debate, not only in the state of Colorado and not only in the Republican Party, but I’m sure, in households across the state.

Reporter: It’s also likely to be an issue of debate in political campaigns, as both sides gear up for what is sure to be a divisive election season.

[Photo: CPR/MVerlee]