Colo. civil union backers worry about next step

Associated Press

DENVER (AP) — Democrats pushing for Colorado civil unions worried Friday about the bill's fate after a pointed warning from the Republican House speaker about legislators attacking the motives of opponents.

The bill calling for legal protections for gay couples similar to marriage passed with a 6-5 vote late Thursday in the GOP-led judiciary committee that rejected the same legislation last year.

Rep. B.J. Nikkel, a Larimer County Republican who previously voted against the bill, said she changed her position and cast the deciding vote after seeing the outpouring of support from dozens of people at the hearing, many wearing red shirts that read, "One Love."

The measure faces two more committee votes, and a full House vote, before the session ends Wednesday. But bill sponsors say they have enough support from Republicans to pass the measure within a week and get it to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is firmly behind the plan.

Republicans, however, control the scheduling of bills in the House because they have a 33-32 vote advantage. Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty delivered a speech from the chamber's podium Friday, cautioning lawmakers against questioning others' motives if they don't like what happens with legislation before the session ends.

He later said in an interview with The Associated Press that the bill will be scheduled under the rules, even though he noted that some supporters seek preferential treatment for certain bills.

The next hearing could happen later Friday.

McNulty said Senate Democrats took months to move the bill to the House and did it on purpose to force a decision within the final days of the legislative session.

"I think that there are those in the Democratic Party that want to make sure that this issue is a political issue in November," he said, referring to the upcoming election.

Democratic Rep. Daniel Kagan, a member of the House Judiciary Committee that passed the bill, urged Republicans to schedule the necessary hearings on the bill.

"We're here to do the work of the people, and the people very much want us to make a decision on civil unions. It's not a trivial matter," he said.

More than a dozen states allow civil unions or gay marriage.

Opponents of the Colorado bill argued that civil unions undermine traditional marriage and that voters expressed their position on the issue when they banned same-sex marriage in 2006.

Gay couples and their straight allies who waited into the night were initially hushed after the vote Thursday. But moments later burst into tears and hugged one another, milling around the committee room long after the vote was taken.

"My hope just shot through the roof. I feel like I'm sitting in the middle of an amazing place in history," said Cristina Aguilar, a gay rights activist from Denver.

Rep. Mark Ferrandino, the Democrats' leader in the House and a gay lawmaker who sponsored the bill, said before the vote that he and other people just want equal rights. He noted the law books behind the Republican chairman overseeing the House Judiciary Committee's hearing.

"All we're asking is for equal access to those books that are behind you, Mr. Chairman," Ferrandino said.


Associated Press writer Kristen Wyatt contributed.


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