Amid the chaos of a controversial bill to combat the fentanyl epidemic and Republican efforts to “billibuster” legislation as time wound down on the legislative session lurked the memory of Colorado’s most controversial ending beneath the golden dome.
Ten years ago the bill to create civil unions died on the state House floor.
It died to the sound of wails from onlookers in the gallery. It died to the sight of legislators openly sobbing on the floor. It died to the heart-breaking image of the gay House Minority leader visibly shaken in the background as the Speaker proclaimed an impasse.
I stood directly above that scene and will always remember exactly how it felt. It was anguish and loss and rage and determination and will intertwined.
It was the culmination of six months of testimony, persuasion and coalition building lost, but a new-found resolve to do whatever it would take to make civil unions a reality.
Had the bill made it to the floor, there were enough votes to ensure its passage. Instead, Republicans ran the clock out killing that bill and many others in line behind it. They chose the nuclear option and killed themselves in the process.
They trotted out tired protestations — that voters would forget the matter and focus on the economy — and went in to November trying to protect their slim 33-32 majority. Instead they were annihilated. Democrats took a commanding 37-28 majority and have never held less than a three-seat advantage in the decade since.
Some of that dominance is certainly due to partisan gerrymanders. But not all of it, not even a majority of it. More important, the GOP alienated a large swath of voters who have never returned. In the interim 10 years, Republicans held a one-vote majority in the state Senate for two cycles — and nothing else.
The governor’s seat has become almost as solid blue as the state House and the remaining constitutional offices have all gone to Democrats. Both U.S. Senate seats and every presidential election have gone to the team in blue as well as a majority of U.S. House seats.
Simply put, the Colorado GOP has never recovered from that night.
Yet 10 years on we found ourselves in a remarkably familiar place.
While civil unions were adopted in Colorado in 2013, it seemed anticlimactic. Most attention had turned to full marriage equality (a term I have always believed is both more accurate and on more solid legal footing than “gay marriage”). I even keep a framed copy of the amicus brief I signed in the landmark Obergfell v. Hodges case that acknowledged the right in 2015.
However, thanks to a leaked draft majority opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, plenty of partisans have naturally turned to its ramifications on marriage equality.
The 5-4 Obergfell majority no longer exists. Two of the majority have been replaced by justices far more likely to agree with the Obergfell dissent drafted by Chief Justice John Roberts. In specific, he argued that the Constitution does not specifically address marriage equality and so it should be left to the individual states.
That is the same rationale Justice Samuel Alito used in his draft opinion gutting Roe v. Wade.
Of course, seeing such possibilities on the horizon, current GOP candidates have rushed to revert to the rhetoric that buried them in first place: gubernatorial candidate Greg Lopez made bigoted comments about Gov. Jared Polis’ husband; U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert has openly mocked Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as a parent; and Rep. Dave Williams — who used his position to run numerous anti-LGBTQ+ bills — decided now is the time to attack uber-conservative U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn from the right.
Aside from Lopez, it may work. Boebert and Williams are running in ruby-red districts.
But every shovelful of excrement they toss makes the hole Republicans across the state have been standing in for 10 years that much deeper.
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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