Colorado Lawmakers Reach Impasse on Civil Unions
DENVER - Chants of "shame on you" from gay rights supporters thundered through the Colorado House on Tuesday night after Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty said legislation to allow civil unions won’t get a vote.
McNulty told reporters that lawmakers had reached an impasse and civil unions would die along with several other bills, including an overhaul of school discipline policies and setting a blood-level marijuana limit for drivers.
"We have reached an impasse," McNulty said. "It is unfortunate that there will be items that will not receive consideration by the House tonight because of this impasse."
Colorado’s debate came as gay rights are in the national spotlight.
North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment Tuesday defining marriage solely as a union between a man and a woman, and also barring civil unions. Also, Vice President Joe Biden said over the weekend that he was "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex married couples getting the same rights at heterosexual married couples.
Colorado’s bill had cleared a key hurdle Tuesday when Republican Rep. Cheri Gerou joined Democrats to advance the measure out of its final committee for consideration by the full chamber.
"This isn’t a partisan conversation," Gerou said. "This is, in my mind, this is a basic human rights conversation."
Republicans in two other House committees had also joined Democrats.
Supporters gathered at a rally outside the Capitol earlier Tuesday to pressure the GOP to take action on the bill, chanting "Let them vote!" to Republican lawmakers who control the House.
Gay rights advocates had been nervous that Republican opponents would use procedural tactics to run out the clock and kill the bill.
Tuesday night’s announcement that the bill wouldn’t get a vote came hours after Democrats sought to block a GOP filibuster on civil unions. Republicans control the House on a 33-32 margin but enough members of their party supported the legislation to pass it.
Democrats used a procedural move to try to stop debate on other bills when it became clear Republicans were talking at length about other measures, delaying any action on civil unions.
Republicans responded by abruptly stopping floor work.
The bill needed to have an initial vote of the full House before midnight Tuesday or else the proposal would die. That’s because the Legislature adjourns Wednesday, so there wouldn’t be time for a final vote.
Earlier, Democratic Rep. Ferrandino, his party’s leader in the House, told the House’s third-ranking Republican, Rep. Mark Waller, "We’re willing to work with you to make sure every bill gets an up or down vote tonight."
The Senate had already approved the bill, and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper supported it.
After the announcement that civil unions legislation was dead this year, Ferrandino, a gay lawmaker sponsoring the bill, tried to calm down observers who began chanting, including one who said to McNulty, "All we ask is you give us a chance."
More than a dozen states allow either gay marriage or civil unions. Hawaii and Delaware began allowing civil unions this year.
McNulty, who opposes the plan, said earlier that Democrats intentionally held the bill to force a standoff.
"We all know that it’s a heated public policy issue to begin with and with the Senate Democrats sitting on it for 110 days, they’ve really turned it into a manufactured crisis here at the end of session," he said.
Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, a gay lawmaker sponsoring the bill, said House Republicans specifically asked Senate Democrats to hold the civil unions bill until after GOP assemblies April 14, to avoid attracting primary opponents.
"They wanted to cower and hide until after their nominating assemblies. We were asked to wait, and that weekend in April was specifically cited," Steadman said.