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Civil unions bill dies in special session: "Forced acceptance" v. love, rights

The so-called House "kill committee" has put to death a bill to legalize civil unions. The measure, sponsored by House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, who is gay, failed despite having bipartisan support in the full House when the committee's five Republicans voted against it. But first, supporters and and opponents testified for hours, their comments ranging from poignantly emotional to weirdly sexual. Keep reading for five comments from each side.

Opponents -- some of whom wore shirts that said "Loving All, Protecting Marriage" -- argued that civil unions are a pathway to same-sex marriage. Many said gay unions go against natural law, and one pastor quoted so extensively from the Bible that it was unclear whether he was testifying on the bill or trying to win a Catechism trivia contest. Most opponents said same-sex relationships are bad for children.

Here are five choice comments:

* Married couple Matt and Mindy Dalton are opposed to civil unions. Much of their (uncomfortable) testimony was about their bodies. "Gender matters," Matt said, pointing out that men's and women's bodies "go together" and "compliment each other." Wink, wink. And if that wasn't clear enough, Mindy made it crystal: "Marriage begets children," she said. And if marriage goes out the window, she added, so does the world.

* David Williams testified that he was harassed and intimidated when, as student body president at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, he refused to sign off on funding for the college's GLBT organization. The organization got its money anyway, he said, but "I was accused of being a bigot." He said he had to hire a lawyer to prove to the university that he wasn't. The civil unions bill "is about forced acceptance," he said.

The crowd listens to testimony before the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
The crowd listens to testimony before the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
Daniel Gonzales

* Jeff Johnston, a policy analyst with the Focus on the Family affiliate CitizenLink, said he struggled for years with attractions to men and an addiction to porn. He didn't want to be gay, he said; he longed for a wife and kids. With the help of a Christian counselor, seminars such as "Help and Healing for the Homosexual" and a support group, he said he was able to suppress his same-sex attractions. Now he's married and has three sons.

Johnston testified that if he were to go through that same struggle today -- with the "glamorization" of gay people, the weakening of marriage and the acceptance of things such as civil unions -- he's uncertain his transformation would have been as successful. He added that he's not sure where he'd be, but he probably "would not have a beautiful wife" and three kids. Legalizing civil unions could push young people to accept their sexuality and come out earlier, he said -- which he implied would be a bad thing.

* A homeschooled eighteen-year-old named Kasey Leander testified that it'd be "a mistake" to legalize civil unions -- which prompted Representative Nancy Todd, an Aurora Democrat and former schoolteacher, to ask him a simple question -- teacher-style. "Do you believe in a double standard?" she asked. When Leander said no, Todd followed up: If I get sick, she said, my husband can make decisions for me. But Ferrandino and his partner don't enjoy that same right. Isn't that a double standard?

Leander said it wasn't because Ferrandino could marry a woman if he wanted to. Plus, he said, gay couples have access to some legal rights already through designated beneficiary agreements. Civil unions are an "ideological shift," he said.

* Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family was perhaps the most researched opponent; he said he's written four books on how the makeup of families impact children. In his opinion, kids do best when they're raised by their biological mother and father. "It's not good for the state to create alternate family forms," he said. He also dismissed research -- "supposed research," he called it -- that shows the children of same-sex couples fare just as well as those raised by a mom and a dad. He said those studies were fraught with problems.

Stanton brushed aside comments, including some from former Denver mayor Wellington Webb, that gay rights are civil rights, and said Colorado shouldn't pass laws to protect "a small population of adults." Several lawmakers took offense, including Representative Lois Court, a Denver Democrat, who said, "We have gone through Hades to undo the mistakes" of not protecting minorities. Later, Stanton clarified his comments: What he meant, he said, was that we should not extend rights to people because of "emotional arguments."

Flip the page to read supporters' comments.

Supporters rally for civil unions last week, before the bill was killed the first time.
Supporters rally for civil unions last week, before the bill was killed the first time.
Ladd Bosworth

Gay Coloradans testified about their families and asked lawmakers to afford them the same rights and responsibilities that opposite-sex couples enjoy. Webb called gay rights "the civil rights issue of today," and a Log Cabin Republican quoted Barry Goldwater.

Again, here are five choice comments:

* Fran and Anna Simon have a four-year-old son, Jeremy. "We want you who vote against civil unions to know who you are hurting," said Anna. The two choked up talking about how their son deserves the security of having his parents' relationship recognized by law. Instead, they said they've spent thousands on legal documents to capture a fraction of that security. "This is the person I believe God chose for me," Anna said, while Fran urged lawmakers to "be a hero for Jeremy and all the kids like him in Colorado."

* Jessie Ulibarri and Louis Trujillo testified about their two kids: a thirteen-year-old son and an eighteen-month-old foster daughter whom they're hoping to adopt. Their family is just like everyone else's, they said. Jessie is on diaper duty, while Louis does midnight feedings; Louis disciplines the kids, and Jessie spoils them. For the past three years, they said they've delayed having a commitment ceremony because they're determined to wait until civil unions are legal. "Please give our family a fair chance," Jessie said.

* Jason Cobb and his partner, also named Jason, are fathers to a five-year-old son named Jacob. Some time ago, while the family was visiting relatives elsewhere in Colorado, Cobb said Jacob experienced breathing problems. Cobb and his partner rushed Jacob to an urgent care facility, where he said "the focus was not on our child; the focus was on us." The staff refused to treat Jacob until they had his mother's name and financial information. The delay, Cobb said, caused Jacob to suffer. "As he's gasping for air, they want to know who we are to each other," he said. He asked lawmakers to prevent situations like his.

* Beth Bryant, an attorney with the Colorado Bar Association, told lawmakers that "civil unions are about equal accessibility to the law." She testified that they are "not gay marriage" and said that unlike designated beneficiary agreements, which afford rights to the parties involved, civil unions also bestow responsibilities, which is good.

* Mindy Barton, the legal director for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Colorado, said there's been a "sea change" since 2006, when Colorado voters amended the state constitution to state that marriage is between a man and a woman. Today, 72 percent of Coloradans support civil unions, she said. "The sky will not fall with the passage of civil unions," Barton added.

But apparently, not enough lawmakers agreed. Representative Don Coram, a Montrose Republican, hesitated before casting his "no" vote; he said that though he has a gay son whom he loves very much, the majority of his constituents are opposed to civil unions.

Afterward, Ferrandino told a scrum of reporters that he was disappointed in the process. Echoing several other Democrats, Ferrandino called the assignment of the civil unions bill to the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee -- otherwise known as the "kill committee" -- an "abuse of power" by House Speaker Frank McNulty.

"We will continue to fight," Ferrandino pledged.

Note: The original version of this post attributed certain comments to Matt and Mindy Barton. The couple's last name is Dalton, not Barton. We have corrected the error.

More from our Politics archive: "Video: John Hickenlooper says civil unions aren't marriage on CNN."


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