Ferrandino: Court decision upholding California’s Prop 8 ‘a blip’ in progress

A state lawmaker who has sponsored bills expanding civil rights for gay couples in Colorado said Tuesday afternoon he wasn’t surprised California’s Supreme Court upheld a ballot measure banning gay marriage but called the decision “a blip” in the country’s advances toward equality.

State Rep. Mark Ferrandino, a Denver Democrat and the first openly gay man to sit in the Colorado legislature, said he expects California voters to go back to the polls to overturn Proposition 8, which passed last fall with 52 percent of the vote.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Ferrandino told The Colorado Independent shortly after learning of the California decision, “because the voters passed Proposition 8, and it’s very rare that courts overturn a voter-approved initiative, so I thought the chances of it being overturned were slim.

“When you look at what’s going on nationally, the direction and progress we’ve made is significant and this is a blip in it,” Ferrandino said. “In the next few years, you’ll probably see a voter initiative to overturn Prop 8, and in the next few years you’ll see more and more states recognizing same-sex couples through marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships — more and more done through legislative processes like you’ve seen in New York and New Hampshire.”

Ferrandino was the House sponsor of two bills subsequently signed by Gov. Bill Ritter — one that allows gay and lesbian couples and other unmarried adults to establish sweeping legal rights for each other and a second that extends health insurance benefits to same-sex partners of state employees.

State Sen. Jennifer Veiga, also a Denver Democrat, was the chief Senate sponsor on both bills. Veiga, the first openly lesbian member of the legislature, gave up her seat earlier this month to move to Australia to help care for her partner’s ailing mother. A Democratic vacancy committee last week named prominent gay-rights activist and lobbyist Pat Steadma to Veiga’s seat.

In 2006, Colorado voters passed Amendment 43, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and that same year defeated a civil union measure.

At least one initiative to reverse Colorado’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage could be headed for the ballot next year. A Lakewood man is moving ahead with a proposal to overturn Amendment 43, which would have to be approved by state voters. Another ballot measure to establish civil unions for same-sex couples is also in the works.

Poll-watcher extraordinaire Nate Silver, whose must-read FiveThiryEight.com site accurately tracked trends in the last election, says moods are changing at a fast-enough clip that Colorado voters could be willing to reverse the gay marriage ban as soon as next year.