The Colorado legislature is considering a civil union bill, but the measure was sent to a hostile committee.

Story highlights

Civil unions bill assigned to "kill committee," House Democratic leader says

Water projects are among dozens of other bills that were not brought to a vote last week

Governor says passage of civil unions bill "depends on Frank" McNulty, speaker

CNN  — 

As Colorado’s legislators met Monday in extraordinary session to consider bills that were not brought to the floor last week, House Democratic Leader Mark Ferrandino bemoaned the assignment of a civil-unions bill to a “kill committee” as a harbinger of its likely defeat.

“Sad to see Speaker during his Speaker’s Session assign #civil unions to State Affairs, his kill committee, again thwarting democracy,” said Ferrandino in a tweet that referred to House Speaker Frank McNulty and the State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, which has nine members, five of them Republicans. None of the Republicans has expressed support for the bill, he said.

Still, Ferrandino, who is gay, held out hope that the bill might ultimately gain passage. “We’re going to make our case and maybe somebody will have a change of heart,” he told CNN in a telephone interview. “We need one person to change their mind.”

The Republican speaker has made no secret of his opposition to the bill, which had garnered bipartisan support. “Planting corn today,” McNulty tweeted Sunday. “What I should be doing tomorrow insread (sic) of a special session for the legislature.”

He expressed similar sentiments Monday, when he tweeted, “Special legislative session on same sex marriage brought to you by Colorado Gov @hickforco and cost picked up by Colorado families.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper, who had called the special session, said Sunday that the bill is not about same-sex marriage, which is banned under Colorado’s constitution. And he said the civil unions bill was not the only one that he wished would have passed during the regular session.

“On the next-to-last day of our legislative session, the civil unions bill came out of committees and they just filibustered,” the Democrat told CNN. “They wouldn’t let it come to the floor, and when it died, 30 other bills died. And these are important to our businesses.”

But McNulty said in a telephone interview that the special session amounts to a reset of the process. “We start all over again with committee hearings and testimony,” he said. “We can get out of here in three days.”

McNulty defended his equation of civil unions to same-sex marriage. “It’s clearly creating same-sex marriage in Colorado,” he said about the bill. “They can call it whatever they want, but the bottom line is that’s what’s happening here.”

McNulty suggested there was a link between what is going on in Colorado and President Barack Obama’s announcement last week that he supports same-sex marriage. “To me, it’s more than a simple coincidence that all of this is happening at the same time,” McNulty said. “Bills die on the calendar every year and we don’t have a special session as a result of it.”

In a statement, the speaker accused Hickenlooper and his Democratic supporters of “pushing a last-minute, divisive attack on our traditional views on marriage for short-term political gain.”

Outside the Capitol before the special session began, more than 100 gay rights advocates demonstrated Monday morning in a call for McNulty “to give us a fair hearing,” said Jace Woodrum, deputy executive director of One Colorado, a statewide advocacy organization for gay and transgender Coloradans.

He described as “shameful and unprecedented” last week’s House shutdown, which blocked consideration not only of the civil unions bill, but of more than 30 other bills.

A civil union is a legal status created by the state of Vermont in 2000 and subsequently by a number of other states, according to Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, in a posting on its website. “It provides legal protection to couples at the state law level, but omits federal protections as well as the dignity, clarity, security and power of the word ‘marriage.’”

Obama said last week that he supports states’ deciding the issue of same-sex marriage on their own, but added that he was “disappointed” by last Tuesday’s vote on the issue in North Carolina, where a ban on same-sex marriage was added to the state constitution. Obama called the amendment discriminatory against gays and lesbians, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Five U.S. states allow civil unions between same-sex couples, but not marriage.

Six states – Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York – and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, while 31 states have voted in favor of constitutional amendments that seek to define marriage as a heterosexual union.

In February, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage beginning in June, but opponents there have pledged to block the bill and called for voters to decide the issue. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill that permits the state’s same-sex couples to wed as of January 1, and state residents may vote to affirm such a law.

Minnesota will vote on a state constitutional amendment similar to the one in North Carolina, while Maine will have a referendum on allowing same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, two cases seeking to overturn laws forbidding the practice, one from California and another from Massachusetts, could be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court in coming months.