Colorado Panel Kills Same-Sex Unions Measure in Special Session

Legislation that would have permitted same-sex civil unions and which prompted Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to call a special legislative session was defeated by a Republican-led House committee.

The Colorado State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted 5 to 4 to kill the bill after a six-week odyssey that saw it progress farther than many proponents expected. The measure, which would have permitted gay and lesbian couples to inherit one another’s property and take family leave and make medical end-of-life decisions for a partner, was approved by the Democratic-controlled state Senate last month.

On the first day of the new session, Colorado Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty assigned the bill to the state affairs committee, a panel dominated by conservative members. McNulty said before the vote that he made the assignment to “dispense with divisive issues as quickly as possible so we can get back to the business of creating jobs.”

Hickenlooper, a first-term Democrat, and President Barack Obama, who announced his support for gay marriage on May 9, may benefit from the civil unions defeat in a state considered a battleground in the presidential election that Obama carried in 2008, said Bob Loevy, a retired professor of political science at Colorado Springs-based Colorado College.

“The Democrats have played this very adroitly,” Loevy said. “Right-wing social issues, particularly those with a religious connotation, divide the Republican coalition and drive away a group that used to be very strongly Republican. That’s upscale, professional upper-income voters who live in close-in suburbs, particularly in the Denver metropolitan area.”

Constitutional Amendment

The state’s voters in 2006 rejected a domestic partnerships ballot initiative and amended the state constitution to declare marriage a contract between a man and a woman.

After being approved by the state Senate in April, the civil union’s bill unexpectedly passed out of three Republican-controlled House committees, yet died in the House on May 8 after McNulty recessed the chamber shortly before midnight in a move aimed at blocking it. Hickenlooper called a special session the next day, even as Obama said for the first time that gay marriage should be legal.

Before the bill’s defeat, Hickenlooper said he called the special session to address the civil-unions bill and other measures that failed to advance. In an executive order calling for a special session, the governor asked the legislature to consider subjects including unemployment, limits on driving while under the influence of drugs, water projects and civil unions.

‘Needed a Debate’

“We needed a special session anyway, we needed to make sure that we got business bills done and at the same time we needed a debate on civil unions,” Hickenlooper said.

Supporters predicted the bill’s downfall would be felt at the ballot box this fall.

“A no vote today hurts thousands of Colorado families and the millions of people who care about us,” said Anna Simon, a biology professor at the University of Denver, who testified during the four-hour committee hearing in favor of the measure with her partner, Fran.

It’s the closest a civil unions measure, which would have permitted gay and lesbian couples to inherit one another’s property and take family leave and make medical end-of-life decisions for a partner, has come to passing in Colorado.

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