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Civil unions falter in Colorado as GOP blocks consideration of any legislation


By Jacob Combs

Yesterday night was certainly a heartbreaking and frustrating one for our community, but while the vote in North Carolina was a disappointment, events in Colorado were downright outrageous.  After a marathon session of the state House of Representatives, a civil unions bill died at midnight, along with almost 37 other bills caught in the crossfire by Republicans’ blatant obstructionism.

First, some context.  LGBT advocates were ecstatic when, after a civil unions bill passed the state Senate, a key House committee which voted down a similar bill last year approved this year’s version, allowing it to move forward.  Timing was always a concern: with a legislative session scheduled to end at midnight tonight, in order to pass, the civil unions bill would have to be debated on the House floor by last night.  There were many procedural hurdles to get through, and many points in the journey where the bill could fail.

But it didn’t.  Republican committee leaders moved the bill through quickly, and it passed another committee without incident.  Then, in the third and final committee to hear the bill, things got messy.  Republicans debated bills that were dead on the calendar in an effort not to hear the civil unions bill, and moved the bill further down the schedule than it had originally been planned.  Finally, the bill passed–but not before Republicans had added two potentially poisonous amendments to it which would either have to be voted out of the text on the full House floor or require a conference committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate version of the bill.

The final committee vote happened around 5:00 p.m. Denver time.  The bill would have to be heard that evening in order to pass, but with seven hours, and a majority of representatives already committed to voting yes on the bill, that seemed possible.

When the House convened, Republicans pulled out all the stops to keep the bill from being considered.  First, the chairman of the final committee to consider the bill did not “read the bill across the desk,” meaning it could not be taken up by the full House.  Then, the Republican leadership took up a resolution on (irony alert) civility in the House, which it then passed about 30 minutes later.

According to veteran reporters who have experience covering the Colorado legislature, what happened next was one for the history books.  The Republicans moved to proceed to a calendar of bills for a second reading which would not have included the civil unions bill.  Democrats got Republican Rep. B.J. Nikkel (who had voted for civil unions in committee) to vote with them in blocking the motion, giving them an effective majority in the chamber, which is almost evenly divided with 33 Republicans and 32 Democrats.  After the motion failed, Republicans tried to make it again.  And again.  Then they tried, and failed, a fourth time.

House Speaker Frank McNulty, a Republican, and Minority Leader Mark Farrandino, took a private, closed-door meeting together to try to reach some sort of deal.  When the deal was announced, it looked like a good sign for civil unions advocates: the Democrats agreed to allow the second reading calendar once Republicans had read the civil unions bill across the desk, freeing it to come to the House floor.  The bill was read across, and the motion to go to second reading was adopted without any objections.

Then came the filibustering.  A bill that would ban trans fats in Colorado’s schools came up for consideration, and Rep. Bob Gardner demonstrated why filibustering a bill is called “doing a Bob” in the Colorado House.  Ferrandino, Nikkel, One Colorado (the group supporting civil unions) and representatives from the office of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s (who supports the bill) held a spontaneous strategy conference outside the House chamber, then made sure all 34 members of their new-found majority were seated in the chamber.  And then, just as Democrats were about to force the filibuster to an end, Republicans promptly called a recess.

Legislators rushed to the press table, eager to pin the delay on their opponents.  Gov. Hickenlooper showed up in the Capitol and conferred with McNulty over scotch outside the building, but the House Speaker wouldn’t budge an inch.  Rep. Nikkel and Rep. Massey, both moderate Republicans, tried to lobby McNulty to bring the house back into session, but were unsuccessful.  McNulty told the press that the two sides’ differences “won’t be resolved tonight,” eliciting shouts of “shame on you” from the crowd.  Lawmakers handed out a list of the 37 bills that would also die that night, bills about school discipline, marijuana DUIs, autism drug studies, and one that would have awarded $20 million of water projects in the state.

The Colorado House’s failure last night demonstrates just how beholden the state’s Republican lawmakers are to a small, radical conservative base.  When Rep. Nikkel voted the civil unions bill out of committee, conservatives panicked, especially since they knew the bill would enjoy the support of at least five Republicans on the House floor, guaranteeing its passage.  Because of that, they lobbied McNulty and House Majority Leader Amy Stephens to do everything they could procedurally to kill the bill.

The Republican leadership’s behavior last night was deplorable, but it doesn’t need to be the final say on the matter.  In a powerful editorial yesterday, the Denver Post called on Gov. Hickenlooper to convene a special session of the legislature in order to address its unfinished business, including the civil unions bill.  Hopefully, Democrats will point to the political maneuvers deployed against civil unions by Republicans during this fall’s elections, revealing their opponents as captives of a small minority that stands opposed to the majority of Coloradans who believe in equal rights.

No one put the issue more succinctly, or compellingly, I think, than Mario Nicolais, the head of the conservative group Coloradans for Freedom, which supported the civil unions bill.  “Civil unions will soon pass,” Nicolais said, “and so will the GOP House majority.”


  • 1. John Smith  |  May 9, 2012 at 8:10 am

    Saw this posted on previous thread thought Id move it to this one:

    "I’m so glad that people are always pointing out God’s Law when referring to homosexuality. I really thank these people for doing this since I am so ignorant in a lot of ways. Since I don’t know all of the areas of the bible, and Leviticus 18:22 is the primary passage that is quoted when referring to homosexuality as an “abomination,” I need some clarification on other passages.Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?I’d also like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Leviticus 15:19-24. The problem is, how do I tell? I’ve tried asking women, but most women take offense.When I burn a bull on the alter as a sacrifice, I know that it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Leviticus 1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?I have another neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it.A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Leviticus 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are these degrees of abominations?Leviticus 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I need to use reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus 19:27. How should they die?I know from Leviticus 11:6-8 that touching the skid of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?My uncle has a far. He violates Leviticus 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we do to all the trouble of getting the whole city together to stone them? Leviticus 24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws (Leviticus 20:14).I know that a lot of people have studied these things extensively and therefore have considerable expertise in such matters, so I’m confident that you can help me out with my questions …And as always, thanks for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging."

  • 2. AnonyGrl  |  May 9, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Go Gov. Hickenlooper! Call a special session! MAKE them deal with it!!!

    I love the name Hickenlooper, by the way. Friends of mine in CO say he is a really cool guy too.

  • 3. Sagesse  |  May 9, 2012 at 9:06 am


  • 4. robertaustinapr  |  May 9, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Yes, our governor should call a special session to make our elected officials do their jobs, specifically vote on bills. Coloradoans should be outraged not just by the civil unions bill but the 30 other bills that were effectively killed by sheer cowardice. If anyone wants to put a word in Mr. Hickenlooper urging him to hold a special session, here's where to do it:

  • 5. bayareajohn  |  May 9, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    And while killing all those sinners, always remember that God is Love.

  • 6. lydiatusson  |  May 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    For anyone who hasn't heard, this afternoon Hickenlooper called for a special session to address the civil unions legislation! More to come!

  • 7. best meal replacements&hellip  |  May 9, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    best meal replacements…

    Prop 8 Trial Tracker…

  • 8. Bill S.  |  May 10, 2012 at 12:17 am

    All those inconvenient laws were poofed away by Jesus. Apparently even the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the Universe changes his mind from time to time.

    Oh, yeah, but not the rules on homosexuality. Those stay.

  • 9. Equality On Trial »&hellip  |  March 12, 2013 at 10:08 am

    […] to pass a full floor vote after several Republicans announced they would support it, the bill died at midnight on the last day of the session, taking with it 37 other bills that were blocked by […]

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