DENVER (AP) — A proposal to allow civil unions in Colorado was in limbo Tuesday night, as Democrats pushed to halt a GOP filibuster in the House only to have Republicans abruptly stop floor work, potentially dooming the bill before a key deadline.
Republicans have a 33-32 voting advantage, but enough members of their party support the civil unions bill to pass it. The bill needs to have an initial vote of the full House before midnight Tuesday or the proposal dies. That's because the Legislature adjourns Wednesday, so there wouldn't be time for a final vote.
Democrats used a procedural move to try to stop debate on other bills when it became clear Republicans were talking at length about other measures, delaying any action on civil unions.
"Were willing to figure out a way forward for all the bills," Democratic Rep. Ferrandino, his party's leader in the House, told the House's third-ranking Republican, Rep. Mark Waller. "We're willing to work with you to make sure every bill gets an up or down vote tonight."
Waller shot back that "Democrats are playing procedural games."
"This is unprecedented in the history of the state of Colorado, to mess with the rules," he said.
Waller said Republicans were planning to take a two-hour recess, potentially dooming the bill before the midnight deadline.
The Senate has already approved the bill, and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper supports it.
More than a dozen states allow either gay marriage or civil unions. Hawaii and Delaware began allowing civil unions this year.
Colorado's debate comes as gay rights are in the national spotlight. North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment Tuesday defining marriage solely as a union between a man and a woman. 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.
Colorado's bill had cleared a key hurdle Tuesday when Republican Rep. Cheri Gerou joined Democrats to advance the measure out of its final committee for consideration by the full chamber.
"This isn't a partisan conversation," Gerou said. "This is, in my mind, this is a basic human rights conversation."
Supporters gathered at a rally outside the Capitol earlier Tuesday to pressure the GOP to take action on the bill, chanting "Let them vote!" to Republican lawmakers who control the House.
Gay rights advocates had been nervous that Republican opponents would use procedural tactics to run out the clock and kill the bill.
Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty, who opposes the plan, said Democrats intentionally held the bill to force a standoff.
"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," he said.
Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, a gay lawmaker sponsoring the bill, said House Republicans specifically asked Senate Democrats to hold the civil unions bill until after GOP assemblies April 14, to avoid attracting primary opponents.
"They wanted to cower and hide until after their nominating assemblies. We were asked to wait, and that weekend in April was specifically cited," Steadman said.
Ferrandino, a gay lawmaker sponsoring the bill in the House, said he was uncertain about the bill's fate.
"My optimism is quickly fading," he said.
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