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Handful of Colorado Lawmakers Stonewall Civil Unions Bill

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Supporters of Civil Unions rally at the Capitol in Denver on Monday, May 14, 2012.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ed Andrieski

Colorado State Rep. Don Coram voted against allowing a same-sex civil unions bill to exit his committee Monday, cutting short growing bipartisan efforts to push the bill through that were speculated to succeed— and refusing the one legislative request his gay son has ever made.

“He was given a time to lead, and he didn’t do it,” a disappointed Dee Coram, 44, told the Denver Post. Coram, who called his father before the vote, described his father’s actions as a “let down.”

If Coram had approved the measure, advocates say it would’ve had enough mettle to pass in the larger House; clearing the way for Colorado to legally recognize same-sex couples. But Coram and House Speaker Frank McNulty exploited a legislative procedure to ensure that the measure would never see its day on the House floor.

Coram, a Republican from a rural Colorado district, explained that despite his son’s wishes, he just couldn’t vote against his constituency. Coram recycled an oft-used Republican citation—the state’s 2006 referendum banning same-sex marriage — but chose to ignore the overwhelming support that civil unions, and the like enjoy among Coloradoans. As many as 75 percent say they support legal recognition of same sex couples, according to a recent Public Policy Polling survey [PDF].

Colorado’s long battle over same-sex couples’ rights was reinvigorated earlier this year when Republicans formed a group to advocate for civil unions. Coloradoans for Freedom hosted a “conservative cocktail reception” to kick off the beginning of the legislative session, framing their advocacy using the rhetoric around liberty instead of human rights.

“There are a sizable number of Republicans who view this as a freedom issue,” former state Rep. Rob Witwer, who gave the keynote address at the January reception, told the Colorado Statesman. “The government’s role is to maintain order, but beyond that it is to maximize freedom.”

With a handful of Republicans on board with civil unions, supporters estimated they finally had enough votes to pass the measure.

Last year, a bill that would allow unmarried Coloradans to enter into civil unions was passed by the Democrat-controlled state Senate, but failed to make it out of the House Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote.

This go-around, the bill’s sponsors watched it pass three Republican-led House committees, only to see it stagnate with McNulty’s refusal to bring it to a vote on the House floor.  

In response, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper called a special session on Monday night but McNulty strategically directed the bill to the state affairs committee, known colloquially as the “kill committee” for its tendency to axe bills that are unpopular with conservative Republicans.

This last redirection left the bill before Coram, the committee chair, who cast the final vote condemning the measure after saying he was proud of his gay son.

It appears with a 5-4 final tally, which ended Colorado’s latest battle over same-sex unions, Coram’s lip service doesn’t do a lot for his son.

“He could have and should have been the deciding vote,” Dee Coram said.  

Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.

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