DENVER (AP) — Dozens of civil unions supporters rallied outside the Colorado Capitol on Tuesday, directing chants of “Let them vote!” to Republicans who control the House and are divided over the issue.
The last-minute drama comes during the final days of the legislative session, where a civil unions measure that proponents say has enough support to become law faces a pair of key deadlines.
Gay rights advocates are nervous Republican opponents will use procedural tactics to run out the clock and kill the bill.
Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty, who opposes the plan, blames Democrats for bringing the legislation forward too late, creating a “manufactured crisis at the end of the session.”
Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, a gay lawmaker who successfully carried the bill in the Senate, told a crowd of supporters “Keep your fingers crossed.”
He added, “All of Colorado is watching, and we’re waiting for the outcome that will offer liberty and justice, equality and fairness to all of Colorado.”
The bill must have floor debate and preliminary vote Tuesday or the proposal dies. Lawmakers adjourn the session at midnight Wednesday, and the final vote must happen before then.
If passed, it would underscore the dramatic shift in opinion in a state where voters banned gay marriage in 2006, while rejecting domestic partnerships for same-sex couples that same year. Two Republicans have joined Democrats in passing the bill out of two House committees.
The bill needs to clear a final committee Tuesday afternoon, and at least one Republican there, Rep. Cheri Gerou, has pledged support. That would be enough to get the bill to the full House for debate and initial vote later Tuesday.
Republicans have a 33-32 voting edge in the House, but the bill has enough votes to clear the chamber. The Democratic-led Senate already passed the bill.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper supports the bill. If the legislation passes, Colorado would join more than a dozen states that have either civil unions or allow gay marriage, including several that moved to add the protections this year.
The legislation would give same-sex couples rights similar to marriage, including enhanced inheritance and parental rights, and the ability to be involved in partner’s medical decisions.
Colorado’s debate comes on a week when rights for gay couples are in the national spotlight. North Carolina voters were going to decide Tuesday on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. And Vice President Joe Biden said over the weekend he is “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex married couples getting the same rights at heterosexual married couples.
The timing of the Colorado bill in the final hours of the legislative session has supporters worried. House Republicans control when bills are scheduled and that gives them leeway over bills they disagree with.
McNulty has accused Democrats of waiting with the bill to force a standoff for political gain.
“To me the Democrats have done both the proponents of this bill and opponents of this bill a great disservice by politicizing it,” he said. “We all know that it’s a heated public policy issue to begin with and with the Senate Democrats sitting on it for 110 days, they’ve really turned it into a manufactured crisis here at the end of session.”
Rep. Mark Ferrandino, the Democrats’ leader in the House and a gay lawmaker sponsoring the bill there, disagreed with McNulty, saying the reason the bill took so long in the Senate is because supporters were trying to get Republican support. Ferrandino said he tried to persuade a Republican to carry the legislation in the House, and potential supporters said they needed more time.
“The manufactured crisis is one he’s manufacturing,” Ferrandino said of McNulty.
Ferrandino said he wants the bill be debated on its merits.
“I want it to be either passed or killed by the vote, not by shenanigans being played,” he said.
Republican lawmakers are expected to offer amendments to the bill if it reaches the floor.
“I know that folks have concerns about the ramifications of a bill like this on churches and religious institutions,” McNulty. “I certainly understand that. And the other thing that folks have concerns about is the effect that this will have on marriage and I suspect that those are some things that folks are working on.”
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