By Brendan Loy
Today could be an historic day for freedom and equality in Becky’s and my adopted home state of Colorado, as a bill establishing civil unions for gays & lesbians is on the verge of passing into law.
Even as North Carolina goes down a reactionary road (fueled in large part by ignorance of the facts), the former “Hate State” of Colorado could become another beacon of hope for those of us who believe the arc of the moral universe does indeed bend toward justice.
I said “could.” Nothing is certain yet. The bill has already passed the Democratic-controlled Senate, then eked through two GOP-majority House committees late last week, each time thanks to a single Republican dissenter — Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland (a former aide to right-wing congresswoman and Federal Marriage Amendment co-sponsor Marilyn Musgrave) in the Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Don Beezley, R-Bloomfield, in the Finance Committee — and it is expected to pass the Appropriations Committee this afternoon, thanks to the declared support of Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen. What happens after that is less clear:
GOP leadership will decide whether to call it up [to the House floor] and hear the measure. The bill must be debated today because the official vote has to be taken on another day as the debate, and Wednesday is the last day of the session. …
House leadership — Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, but particularly House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument — will decide when and if it will be heard. Both oppose civil unions. Only one GOP vote is needed to pass the measure. At least five Republicans are expected to vote with Democrats. If approved, the bill goes to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has said he will sign it.
So the question is whether McNulty and Stephens allow a floor debate [UPDATE: and initial voice vote] today. If they do, the bill will ultimately become law; if they don’t, it will die, unless Hickenlooper calls a special session, as the Denver Post has urged him to do if necessary. (He has called such talk “premature,” but hasn’t ruled it out.)
[UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Eli Stokols explains the procedural requirements:
If [the bill passes the Appropriations Committee], the measure would still need to be approved by the full House on an initial voice vote by Tuesday at midnight.
That’s because bill’s must pass second- and third-reading votes on separate days; so if the House doesn’t do an initial vote by Tuesday night, there wouldn’t be time to hold a final vote on Wednesday.
Knock on wood, but I don’t think McNulty and Stephens will prevent a vote. Perhaps they’ll try to extract some sort of concession in exchange for allowing it, but in the end, I think their vague threats to prevent a vote are mostly posturing. If the GOP had the stomach for this fight, they would have stalled the bill already. They could have done so by delaying the committee report out of Judiciary, or by refusing to schedule a Finance or Appropriations committee hearing, all of which were discussed and threatened and fretted over. But ultimately, the relevant GOP leaders have caved at all of those critical junctures over the last few days. And McNulty and Stephens haven’t even clearly stated an intent to stop the bill. I think the state GOP leadership has made a judgment that, with a majority of the House supporting the bill, and an even larger majority of the public supporting it, this isn’t a hill to die on.
Moreover, the worst thing they could do, politically, is to let the bill get to this point, get supporters’ hopes sky-high, and then kill it. The outrage then would be far worse than if they’d killed it earlier, like after the Judiciary vote. Now, public pressure might well force Hickenlooper’s hand into calling a special session, thus embarrassing the GOP leaders further, whereas that probably wouldn’t have been the case if they’d killed it last week. So they’ve missed their ideal window to kill this bill — which they surely realize as well. That leads me to believe they ultimately will not kill it.
But we’ll see. Supporters certainly aren’t resting easy yet. Above is a photo from a rally this morning on the State Capitol steps. More below. See these dangerous radicals, promoting the gay agenda? Don’t all you fellow heterosexuals feels like your marriages are threatened just looking at these pictures? EVERYBODY PANIC!!!
To proclaim our support for civil unions, Becky went out and bought a rainbow flag this afternoon, and put it up on our front-porch flagpole. It’s 2′ x 3′, not as big as our American flag or our USC flag, because that’s the biggest one they had. But it still makes the point:
Let’s do this, Colorado!!!
P.S. We had an interesting discussion on Facebook about this issue last week, including the whole civil unions vs. gay marriage / “perfect being the enemy of the good” problem. Mike Wiser was, as always, the voice of reason:
I think that’s a complicated point. On the one hand, progress is good, even if it’s only incremental. But there is part of me that worries that such an incremental progress might stall out well short of actual equality. Those of us who such measures will directly affect are a very small minority; our only progress from a legislative end will come from convincing the much larger majority. One of the most effective ways of convincing the larger majority has been the justified moral outrage of the abuses in the current system — hospital visitation rights, next of kin status for medical and parental responsibility purposes, etc. As these terrible things are removed, it becomes harder to motivate unaffected third parties to care about smaller but still daunting issues for some couples, like access to spousal social security payments or the ability to file taxes jointly or transfer property to a spouse without incurring substantial tax penalties and the like. So I simultaneously want the most awful things taken care of as soon as possible…and worry that taking care of just the most awful things first will mean that the more moderate problems may not be taken care of for years or even generations longer than they would be in an all or nothing approach. Someone is going to lose either way.
If I had to choose, I think I’d go with the civil unions for now. Actual political change tends to happen over the course of generations; it’s less common that individuals change their minds, and more common that they are replaced by a new generation of voters who see things differently.* The generation of our grandparents, as a whole, is extremely unaccepting of homosexuality. Our parents’ generation is better; our generation is better still; the generation below us is even further along. I eagerly await the day when most people realize that the arguments against same sex marriage are virtually verbatim the same arguments previously used against interracial marriage. I think I’ll probably live to see that, but I may well be in my 60s by the time it happens. If I do find the right man, I think I’d rather risk some years of economic penalties than risk not being allowed at his bedside if he gets sick and his family isn’t OK with me. The economic penalties are more concrete and certain, but less terrible if they do happen. But the game of “pick the way in which you’d prefer to be legally screwed” is hardly a fun one.
* The main way individuals happen to change their views on this one over the course of their own lifetime is from having friends or family members members who come out of the closet. This is one of the major reasons I want as many of the adult gays as possible to come out of the closet. It would also be helpful if more of the truly bisexual people came out of the closet, though I can understand why many choose not to due to the ridiculous social stigma attached.
UPDATE: Mitt Romney is coming to Colorado tomorrow, and at least one event, he will be taking questions from local media (which he didn’t do ahead of his caucus defeat in February). Do you think he wants to answer a bunch of questions from local reporters about how the state GOP leadership torpedoed a bill the night before that has majority support in both houses of the state legislature, and 75% public support in this critical swing state?
Despite Mitt’s professed opposition to civil unions, I’m thinking Team Romney is silently rooting for McNulty and Stephens to let this bill come to a vote tonight. (Or maybe not so silently? Who knows?)