The defeat of a bill to legalize civil unions in the last legislative session was a heart-breaker for those in favor of marriage equality. After passing in the Senate, the bill was defeated in a House committee by one vote -- with all six of the panel's Republicans voting against it. But news of a new, pro-civil unions GOP group is one sign that this year's legislative fight could be different, says Brad Clark, executive director of One Colorado.
"It's been amazing to watch," Clark says. Though three Senate Republicans voted for the bill in 2011, "nothing like that existed the last time around."
"We're optimistic going into this legislative session," he adds. "Across Colorado and across the county, exactly what is happening is that these issues are becoming less partisan. Gay people are coming out more and more, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone, including a legislator, that doesn't know someone who is gay."
This is the second year that One Colorado has thrown its lobbying weight behind a civil unions bill. (Click here to watch video of last year's kickoff event.) Since the defeat, Clark says organizers have been working to rally support for this session, which begins on Wednesday. Senator Pat Steadman, who sponsored last year's bill with now-House minority leader Mark Ferrandino, has said he'll introduce a similar measure this year.
Among One Colorado's recent efforts are an adopt-a-legislator program that encourages gay citizens to send e-mails, letters and holiday cards with photos of their families to their local representatives, with the message that they support civil unions. One Colorado has also been gathering personal stories, which are posted on its website. Stories like that of Mark Lee and Ivan Loy, who live on a ranch in Fort Collins, where they raise goats. Mark has AIDS and though the couple has drafted wills, they worry that the state's failure to recognize their relationship leaves them vulnerable should Mark's health worsen.
"These votes and this discussion always comes back to people's stories," Clark says. "And the reality is that there are thousands of couples, committed gay and lesbian couples, living in communities across the state. As the legislators come to know these families, they recognize that they're just like them and have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else, and should have the same legal protections as everyone else."
This year's One Colorado Civil Unions Campaign Kickoff will be held Wednesday evening in Colorado Springs. Was the choice of the conservative city deliberate? Clark demurs, mentioning that a few of the lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee, which killed last session's bill, are from the Springs.
"We are a statewide organization, so we want to do events that are not limited to the folks that live in Denver," he says. "We have supporters in Colorado Springs, including people of faith. And we have an organizer on the ground who's been working Colorado Springs for quite a while. We have significant support down there."
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A list of 2011 supporters includes three Colorado Springs congregations: the Colorado Springs Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, the First Congregational United Church of Christ of Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church. Also on the list: the Pikes Peak Gay and Lesbian Community Center.
Check out a video of Clark and One Colorado deputy director Jess Woodrum talking about the 2012 battle for civil unions below.
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