DENVER — State Rep. Mark Ferrandino, an openly gay Democrat from Denver, was nominated to be the incoming Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives by his fellow state legislators on Thursday.
Ferrandino will be the first openly LGBT person to hold the speaker’s gavel.
What it means for equality: In Colorado, a bill for civil unions is nearly guaranteed to pass in 2013.
A vulnerable minority’s rights are better off fought for with bipartisan support – otherwise the onslaught of vitriolic political rhetoric and campaign advertising, normally only targeted at politicians who choose to run for office, is turned instead to ordinary people who didn’t volunteer for that, and many of whom are in no place to suffer through it.
Without a doubt, political rhetoric regarding same-sex marriage and civil union contributes to bullying and harassment LGBT youth or people in the workplace experience, and takes a lasting emotional toll.
That’s why, in hindsight, Colorado’s fierce battles over relationship recognition and civil unions, littered with stinging defeats, will probably someday be seen as a pretty good strategy for equality.
In 2008, Democrats had control of Colorado’s state House, state Senate and Governor’s office, but never introduced a bill for civil unions.
Imagine what may have happened if they’d passed one: Surely a renewed efforts to ban not only same-sex marriage but all relationship recognition through a ballot initiative, surely a lot of campaign mailers and ads attacking Democrats for supporting LGBT rights. Surely rhetoric framing equality as a liberal Democrat agenda, intimidating Republican politicians who secretly support civil unions and maybe even swaying ordinary Republican and unaffiliated voters across the state to oppose LGBT rights.
In 2008, only one state had ever defeated an anti-gay referendum by popular vote, and it only lasted two years before one did pass.
In 2010, Colorado’s legislature was divided – a Republican House and a Democratic Senate – and that’s when a bill for civil unions was introduced by Sen. Pat Steadman, an openly-gay Democrat from Denver. Republicans who silently favored civil unions knew it couldn’t pass without them; they couldn’t make the political calculation of voting “no” as they silently cheer it on.
Similarly, Democrats knew that if civil unions did pass, it be with bipartisan support, giving them some breathing room. The Democratic caucus became unanimous in favor of civil unions. A few Republicans announced themselves as crossover votes.
We all know what happened. Despite some Republican support, party leadership had the ability to kill the bill through procedural mechanisms: By sending it to a committee where reliable Republicans would block it, or, as happened quite dramatically in 2012, hold the bill to die calendar without receiving the vote that would have passed it.
It turns out, to pass civil unions in Colorado, the majority leaders in the House and Senate need to be on your side.
Advocates of civil unions decided that the only way to pass civil unions would be to take back the House in 2012. Throwing support behind Democrats in key competitive races, they canvassed, called and campaigned to tip the balance, and last night they won – Democrats now have control of the body, making civil unions a sure thing.
Hopefully the handful of Republicans who support civil unions will remain in support and it can still pass as a bipartisan bill.
Colorado will have eight out LGBT state legislators
What it means for equality: Colorado’s General Assembly of 100 seats – 35 state senators and 65 state representatives – will be it’s most representative yet, at 8 percent lesbian or gay.
In 2012, Colorado had four out state legislators – two in the House, and two in the Senate. They are Sen. Lucia Guzman, Sen. Pat Steadman, Rep. Mark Ferrandino and Rep. Sue Schafer. That was the state record then, and they’re all still there. Their numbers will be doubled next year when the newly-elected assembly is sworn in.
All but Guzman were up for re-election this year, and all of the openly lesbian or gay incumbents won – Steadman defeating a gay Republican challenger, Michael Carr, in his Denver district.
The incumbents are joined by four new legislators: Rep.-elect Dominick Moreno, Rep.-Elect Joann Ginal, Rep.-Elect Paul Rosenthal and Sen.-Elect Jessie Ulibarri.
At 8 percent LGBT, Colorado’s legislature will be the third most representative of its state’s LGBT population in the country.