Debate about civil unions bill sour for Northwest Colorado candidates |

Debate about civil unions bill sour for Northwest Colorado candidates

Scott Franz

It got a second chance in a special legislative session Monday, but a bill that would have established civil unions for same-sex couples died once again at the Capitol in Denver.

The renewed debate about the bill that would have granted gay couples in Colorado rights similar to ones enjoyed by married couples proved sour for Northwest Colorado legislators who stood on both sides of the issue.

For state Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Cowdrey, and Republican House District 56 candidate Chuck McConnell, the debate was a distraction from jobs and the economy. Both men oppose civil unions.

"We have an economy that is not robust right now, and to me, one of the most basic things that attention needs to be placed on is jobs and the economy," McConnell, a Steamboat Springs resident and head of the Routt County Republican Party, said Monday morning. "I really would love to see the energy of the Legislature be directed and focused on an area that is truly hurting people now in our communities."

For Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush, a Democrat who supports civil unions and is running against McConnell for the House seat, the bill's failure was concerning. She said she was disappointed Republicans killed the bill even though it was expected to have enough votes to pass the full House.

"This bill should have gone to the floor where it would have been fairly voted up or down," she said.

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Civil unions and gay marriage for same-sex couples were again thrust into the national spotlight last week when President Barack Obama announced his support for gay marriage. On the same day, Gov. John Hickenlooper called Monday's special session in part to allow his state's civil unions bill to reach the House floor for a vote after lawmakers failed to debate the bill before the end of the regular legislative session last week. Republicans have accused Hickenlooper and Democrats of wasting taxpayer money and time on the civil unions issue instead of focusing on measures related to the economy. Democrats have accused Republicans of depriving gay couples of equal rights while also killing important bills in the process of delaying action on the civil unions measure.

A 5-4 vote on party lines ultimately nixed the bill in committee late Monday night.

But one Northwest Colorado legislator's view on the issue differed from that of a Republican colleague in the statehouse.

As Baumgardner and four other Republicans on the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted to prevent the civil unions bill from advancing to a floor vote, Republican state Sen. Jean White, of Hayden, was not far away, hoping it would pass.

White and Baumgardner soon will face each other in the Republican primary for the District 8 Senate seat.

"I do support civil unions. I believe in personal freedom and individual responsibility and keeping government out of our lives," White said from the Capitol during a brief recess of the special session Monday afternoon. She was one of three Republican senators to this year support the civil unions bill. But like many legislators and observers at the statehouse, she didn't have much hope for its passage 30 minutes before it was presented to Baumgardner and the House Affairs Committee.

White voted last year for a civil unions bill that cleared the Senate but didn't make it through the House.

"My vote today is for love and respect and commitment. My vote today is for my niece and my nephew," she said before that vote, referring to her relatives who are gay.

Before he heard the civil unions bill in the House Affairs Committee, Baumgardner said the majority of constituents who have called or emailed him about the bill opposed it.

"I'm listening to my district," he said. "That's what people send us down here to do."

He called Monday's special session a political move by Democrats "who had a chance to pass a civil unions bill several years ago" when they held a majority at the statehouse.

"We're wondering why they waited until last year and again this year to run this legislation," he said. "I'm not saying this (bill) isn't important, but I think most Coloradans are concerned about jobs and the economy right now."

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Northwest Colorado candidates’ position on civil unions

■ Senate District 8 candidates

Jean White, R-Hayden: “I do support civil unions. I believe in personal freedom and individual responsibility and keeping government out of our lives.”

Randy Baumgardner, R-Cowdrey: “The way the bill is written right now, I’m not likely to support it. Colorado’s constitution says that marriage is between one man and one woman. Everything they are requesting in the bill is already covered in (the Designated Beneficiary Agreement Act).”

Emily Tracy, D-Breckenridge: “I’m a supporter of this bill. I know families come in all different shapes and sizes, and I saw this bill as a fairness issue for same-sex couples. I think peoples’ views on same-sex couples have changed over the years and have evolved. They have the right to have the same quality of life as the rest of us.”

■ House District 56 candidates

Chuck McConnell, R-Steamboat Springs: “I believe that marriage should be defined as a union between one man and one woman. It’s a basic fundamental belief of mine. It has absolutely nothing to do with any negative feelings toward any group of my fellow Coloradans. It’s just a fundamental principle of mine.”

Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs: “I support civil unions, and were I in the Legislature, I would have voted for the bill if it got to the floor. Civil unions provide for gay couples and other couples some of the equal protection under the law which our constitution says we all have.”