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Nicolais: Colorado conservatives take steps toward LGBTQ equality

While GOP state house members introduced six bills targeting the LGBTQ community, opposition from many conservatives demonstrated a slow growth in LGBTQ equality among their ranks

As the committee hearing that began early Thursday afternoon dragged on into the early morning hours of Valentine’s Day, six bills aimed at the LGBTQ community died before the sun rose on the day traditionally dedicated to celebrating love.

While my initial reaction to these bills represented a subdued dismay over continued Republican efforts to attack the LGBTQ community, my spirits lifted substantially as I saw some of the reaction from conservatives I have known and admired for years.

Mario Nicolais

Though still a minority among the public comments of the GOP, that opposition demonstrates how the seeds of inclusiveness sown by organizations like One Colorado have begun to sprout and grow.

Eight years ago I warned Republican legislators that opposition to civil unions would cost them the majority in the statehouse. It did, and they haven’t regained it since. Today Republicans hold nine fewer seats than they did at the time and face a historically large 17-seat deficit in the lower chamber of the legislature.

While other factors played a role in that precipitous decline – Democratic gerrymandering of legislative lines, changing demographics, the anchor placed upon them by President Trump’s unpopularity in the state – opposition to LGBTQ equality sparked the flame that burned the state party to the ground.

From the outside, it’s difficult to determine a rationale for continuing to run such overwhelmingly unpopular bills. Is leadership gunning for single-digit caucus membership for their party at the Capitol? 

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More likely they have resigned themselves to permanent minority status and motivation stems from a drive for power or money. Or at least, what little scraps of either are left to those so far from having any say in the state’s governance.

At the same time, those bills provided an outpouring of opposition from conservative leaders that I haven’t seen in the past. 

In particular, Republicans I’ve known and admired for years came out with staunch opposition to HB20-1272. The bill would have allowed clerks to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples and bar them from adopting children.

This bill sucks, and reflects poorly on my side,” tweeted Greg Brophy, a former state senator.

“I am a Republican and would not support this bill,” echoed Laura Carno, one of the state’s leading conservative voices.

“It’s a needless provocation and a waste of people’s time,” proclaimed Rob Witwer, a former Republican state representative.

“It is time for the party to move past these divisive issues and work to move Colorado forward. Conservative, but inclusive,” added Cole Wist, a recent Republican legislator.

The bills represent “a position that is certainly not accepted in the community I represent, and I live in a very conservative community. But they are also very tolerant of others,” concluded current State Sen. Don Coram.

As a member of One Colorado’s PAC board, I’ve spent most of the past decade working toward statements like that from conservatives.

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It wouldn’t have been possible if not for the open-minded, inclusive approach of its executive directors – from Brad Clark to Dave Montez and now Daniel Ramos – and the support of its staff and volunteers.

That support has not always been easy to give. While Democratic partisans and donors, many of whom contribute significant sums to One Colorado, often prefer to paint all Republicans with a broad brush, the organization has patiently plotted a course toward long-term inroads within the conservative community. 

The course included controversial steps such as dual-endorsements in two competitive legislative seats during the 2018 election.

Because the Republican candidates scored highly on One Colorado’s legislative scorecard and questionnaire, the group decided it could not abandon Republicans who took such positions, even if the endorsement posed a problem for Democratic candidates.

I wish we didn’t need to discuss bills like those put forward last week. It is neither good for our state or its people. But let’s not overlook the silver lining: Colorado conservatives have begun taking steps along the long, bending arc toward LGBTQ equality.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


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