Democracy in action — how Colorado killed civil unions, twice

Democracy in action — how Colorado killed civil unions, twice

Over the past two weeks, the country’s eyes have been watching Colorado, a state better known for its mountains than its politics.

From New York to Los Angeles to Washington, DC, the nation has been captivated as the Colorado legislature — with one chamber under Republican control — considered an issue that many think controversial: civil unions for gay couples.

But in fact, in Colorado, civil unions are not controversial — poll after poll has shown that more than 70 percent of voters support civil unions.

Frank McNulty
Passage of the legislation through the State Senate, with three Republican votes in favor, suggested that Colorado might become only the second state to advance relationship recognition for gay couples while under Republican control.

Despite the bipartisanship that characterized the movement of civil unions through the State Senate, despite such broad, overwhelming support from Coloradans, the issue has torn apart the state’s legislative process, garnering national attention not for our courageous advancement of equality but for the mockery that has been made of the democratic process.

So what really happened in Colorado — as the lives of thousands of families lay on the line?

Filibuster. Procedural motion. Special session. Kill committee. It’s a long story.

But here’s the short version: a bill with overwhelming support both from the public and from a majority of state legislators was killed — not once but twice by Colorado’s Speaker of the House Frank McNulty.

In an unprecedented and shameful display of partisan politics, Representative McNulty stalled, delayed, filibustered, and threw an outright tantrum to keep civil unions—a bill that had won bipartisan approval in the Senate and in three House committees—from coming to the floor for the vote, where it was assured passage.

In essence, the Speaker shut down the House, refusing to do the people’s business and letting more than 30 pieces of legislation die by the clock, in order to keep civil unions from becoming law.

As one member of the Capitol press corps remarked: “They burned the House down to kill a spider.”

And kill it he did. But the story doesn’t end there.

At the hands of Speaker McNulty, the clock ran out on civil unions and three dozen other bills in Colorado’s general session. But Governor Hickenlooper gave civil unions—and six other pieces of legislation—new life, calling a special session.

Though thousands of Coloradans asked the Speaker to give civil unions a fair hearing—a request echoed by newspaper editorial boards around the state—Representative McNulty broke his word. After promising a fair process for months, Speaker McNulty assigned civil unions to his kill committee, a different committee than he had assigned the bill to just a week before. Following hours of testimony, the kill committee did its job, followed orders, and voted down civil unions.

Not once but twice, House Speaker McNulty used political games and underhanded tricks to kill a bill that more than 70 percent of Coloradans support, that had won incredible bipartisan approval, that deserved a full up-or-down vote on the House floor.

At the end of the story, the only question left: is this really what democracy looks like?

Come November, LGBT Coloradans and our allies will make our answer loud and clear.

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