DENVER (AP) – An emotional Gov. John Hickenlooper said Wednesday that he’s pulling Colorado lawmakers back to work to resolve a debate over civil unions that ended abruptly without a House vote a day earlier.
Hickenlooper’s announcement on the final day of the 2012 regular legislative session was sparked by what the Democratic governor called an “overwhelming need” to discuss civil unions.
Gay rights advocates say the proposal has enough support to become law but was blocked by last-minute stall tactics from GOP House leaders. Republicans disagree, saying the bill came up too late in the session for proper consideration.
Democrats have been pushing for the bill that would grant gay couples legal protections similar to marriage. And Hickenlooper has indicated his support for the plan.
Hickenlooper choked up and cited a call Tuesday night from someone he knew from his time in the restaurant business who “didn’t have the same rights as everyone else.”
He said the caller asked, “If not now when?”
Hickenlooper’s decision, which comes amid a national discussion on gay rights, represents arguably his boldest political move since taking office in January 2011. Although praised for orchestrating compromises, they typically happen out of public view.
Hickenlooper said he’d provide more details regarding the special session agenda Thursday, but it could include other bills that also died because they were not voted on before a Tuesday deadline.
Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty would not say whether civil unions would get a vote in the House if it reaches the chamber, raising questions about whether the outcome of the bill would be any different in a special session.
A start date has not been set for the session, and it’s unknown how long it would last.
McNulty said lawmakers would try to finish as much work as possible before adjourning Wednesday. He repeatedly referred to civil unions as gay marriage, even though supporters say the bill does not grant same-sex couples all the rights married couples have. Voters also banned gay marriage in 2006.
“If the governor chooses to take up gay marriage as part of his special session call, then the governor has the right to do that,” McNulty said.
The civil unions bill died Tuesday after Republican leaders halted floor work when Democrats in the minority tried to force a debate and a vote on the bill. Republicans control the House on a 33-32 margin, but Democrats said they had enough support to pass civil unions.
Rep. Mark Ferrandino, the Democrats’ House leader, said his party would continue to fight for the bill, but was doubtful about its prospects.
“I think where things are going, given the difference of a day, or a couple of days, I don’t know that I see a different outcome,” he said.
The bill was one of several that needed to have initial approval before day’s end Tuesday. Other bills included an overhaul of school discipline policies and setting a standard for what’s considered too high on marijuana to drive. The school discipline bill was revived through a legislative maneuver, but marijuana bill is dead. Also, a water projects proposal worth millions of dollars was left pending so that could come up in special session.
The last Colorado special session came amid a 2006 immigration debate.
The civil union battle comes as gay rights issues take the national spotlight.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday said for the first time that same-sex marriage should be legal. His comments came a day after North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman and also bars civil unions.
More than a dozen states allow either gay marriage or civil unions, including several that moved to pass such laws this year.
Hickenlooper made it a point to say that government shouldn’t tell churches whom they can marry. But he added: “Everyone deserves the same legal rights in this country. We are depriving people of their civil rights without reason.”
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