"This is certainly not the first issue we've ever disagreed on," says Montrose businessman Dee Coram about the stance staked out by his father, Representative Don Coram, in regard to the now-defeated civil unions bill. "But this is certainly the most public issue we've disagreed on." No kidding: Their disparate views landed them on page one of today's Denver Post and assorted TV stations -- because Coram mentioned Dee, who's gay, before casting a vote that helped kill the measure.
"I've always stayed out of the issues," Dee says. "But once it was brought up in the session by my father, he kind of thrust me into the limelight."
The first conversation Dee and Don had about the civil unions bill was "a week ago," Dee recalls. Back then, the legislation had been passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate, but it needed to negotiate a number of committees in the Republican-dominated House in order to reach the chamber floor, where supporters felt confident it would pass.
According to Dee, his father told him at the time, "'I think this does need to go to the House for a vote.' His reasoning was, 'The Democrats are really going to come after us this year and try to obtain some seats in the House.'"
The bill seemingly perished toward the end of the regular session, when House leadership's strategy effectively precluded a committee vote that would have brought it before the full membership. Shortly thereafter, Governor John Hickenlooper called for a special session so that legislators could take action on a slew of measures caught up in the maneuvering -- especially the civil unions bill. But rather than assigning the latter to the same committee that had heard it earlier, House Speaker Frank McNulty sent it to the State, Veteran's and Military Affairs Committee. Dubbed by civil unions supporters as the "kill" committee, the body featured more Republicans than Democrats, and all of the former, including Don Coram, were reliable votes against civil unions.
In casting his nay, Don said he needed to properly represent the views of his Western Colorado district -- yet he also spoke with pride about his gay son, Dee. That prompted reporters to follow up, and when they did, Dee shared his disappointment with his father's actions. In his words, "I think there's always a time to follow and there's a time to lead. And I believe he was given that time to lead, and I think he missed the mark."
Page down to continue reading our interview with Dee Coram. Not that Dee has only made comments like these to the press. Don "phoned me last night about ten o'clock, and we had a nice, long conversation," he says. "It was a bit of a debate, but also a nice conversation."
The tenor of this chat was perfectly in keeping with their personal dynamic, Dee points out. "I was taught to always have my own opinion, but also to be able to back it up," he says. "I'm an only child, and since I'm 44 and my parents are 64, they were obviously young parents when I came along -- and we sort of grew up together. So we have a very good friendship."
Likewise, Dee feels extremely positive about the Montrose area, despite its reputation for cultural conservatism. He's the co-owner of The Coffee Trader, a successful business in town (there's also a branch in nearby Grand Junction), and he says, "We have an amazing clientele here. It's no mystery that two of the three owners of the company are gay, but our customers don't really seem to care about that issue. They see us as individuals, they like us, and they realize we've done a lot of things in this community."
Example: "We started the Main Street program called Main in Motion that won the Governor's Award of Excellence from then-Republican Governor Bill Owens," he notes. "And we've served on numerous boards, been involved in a lot of charities, been part of the Montrose-area merchants association, the Downtown Development Authority and a lot of other organizations. We're part of the community, respected members of the community."
Acceptance hasn't been total, he concedes. "No matter what you are, there's always going to be a segment of the population that's going to not want to come in here for those very reasons. But we find we're kind of the United Nations. We have a very broad cross section of the community that comes in regularly," including a group of men who've gathered in a meeting room at The Coffee Trader every Wednesday morning for thirteen years. "They range from the most die-hard, far-right Republican to the most bleeding heart liberal," he says. "There's about eight of them, and they sit in the room for about three hours and solve problems, and probably create a few as well." After a laugh, he adds, "But they're all back the next week to spend time together again."
He sees the idea of civil unions in this same spirit, and he doesn't think it needs to be divisive. Rather than arguing in favor of same-sex marriage, he suggests the government apply the civil unions concept to all couples and leave the term "marriage" to churches.
Regarding his relationship with Don, he shrugs off any suggestions that the press they're receiving could make things awkward between them. "That's just silly," he says. "I'm sure we'll have coffee this week" -- and when they do, they may actually find themselves on the same page at times.
"One of the things he talked about" in explaining his civil unions vote "is that we need to focus on jobs, and I agree," Dee says. "I'm a small business owner and we're looking to expand -- we're looking for investors. So I understand about jobs. But this issue continues to consume so much time that it's taking away from their ability to really focus on creating those new jobs.... And I can't conceive why civil unions are going to inhibit the Republican mantra of jobs, jobs, jobs. It doesn't make sense."
Hard to know if this argument, or others like it, will change Don's mind about civil unions. But his son hasn't given up hope. "If he thought this was a bad bill," Dee says, "maybe he'll come back next year and help write a good one."
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More from our Politics archive: "Civil unions bill dies in special session: 'Forced acceptance' v. love, rights."
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