Civil-unions bill fails to get a vote

With time up, lawmakers reach impasse despite earlier support

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.

The announcement 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 today, so there wouldn’t be time for a final vote.

Earlier, Democratic Rep. Mark 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.

More than a dozen states allow either gay marriage or civil unions. Hawaii and Delaware began allowing civil unions this year.

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. Vice President Joe Biden said over the weekend he is “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.”

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.

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.