Citizen initiative could force gay marriage showdown in Colorado

State establishment political progressives, including the staff at gay rights group OneColorado, seem cool on Aurora college student Mark Olmstead’s plan to introduce a 2012 ballot initiative that would overturn the state’s gay marriage ban. There’s a sense that financial and human resources would be better spent pressing lawmakers to pass legislation securing equal rights for LGBT citizens here. Lone actor Olmstead’s initiative, however, might force the issue, drawing on the energy of New York’s big gay-marriage win this month and on the sea change shift among the U.S. population generally on the matter of gay equality.

“I think attitudes in Colorado toward gay marriage have shifted since 2006,” Olmstead told the Denver Post. He’s right about that.

Repeat surveys have demonstrated support steadily rising in the state. Last year support moved into the 70 percent range for civil unions and well over the 50 percent range for gay marriage. There’s no reason to believe those figures will dip, but there is reason to believe they will continue to rise. Election Day 2012 is more than a year and probably a few relevant court rulings away.

As the Colorado Independent reported in 2009, voting statistics pro Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight and now of the New York Times said that, based on trends in 30 states, opponents of the gay marriage ban in Colorado would stand a very strong chance of repealing it in the 2012 election cycle.

Youth voters will surely be energized by the initiative and, as AP reporter Kristen Wyatt has intimated, when teamed with a planned marijuana legalization initiative, it could be a boon for Democratic Party get-out-the-vote efforts.

In 2009, two Colorado State University students made a small media splash when they submitted a very well-written civil unions initiative to the state legislative council for review. They later dropped it, vaguely citing what they said was an “unfavorable political climate.”

Should Olmstead stick it out, it will be crucial that progressive groups get on board– for any single reason or for a combination of any of them. As Olmstead told the Post, “I just want to draw attention to the issue. Hopefully, that will bring in some sort of fundraising.”

A successful campaign would run at least half a million dollars and likely a lot more than that. In the messaging battle over proposed anti-abortion “personhood” amendment 62 last year, the opposition prevailed. But the “No on 62” coalition spent $578,000 in victory, and it had history on its side. A similar amendment lost big in 2008 as well.

Although it seems a lifetime ago in terms of gay rights, Colorado voters just six years ago did vote against gay marriage.

Olmstead said he doesn’t even remember that battle. He was only 13 years old.

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