Pressure mounts on Republican opponents of Colorado civil unions bill

As the special session of the Colorado legislature launches today centered around gay-rights civil unions legislation, national media outlets are circulating a memo written by a high-profile Republican pollster advising GOP candidates and operatives to embrace equal rights for LGBT Americans. The arguments made in the memo reflect arguments in favor of civil unions made over the past five months by conservatives in Colorado.

Jan van Lohuizen, a pollster for Pres. George W. Bush, wrote to GOP insiders last week that rapidly building public support for gay rights across the demographic spectrum of U.S. voters suggested that the hard-line Republican stance opposing those rights threatened to marginalize the party.

From the memo:

Support for same sex marriage has been growing and in the last few years support has grown at an accelerated rate with no sign of slowing down. A review of public polling shows that up to 2009 support for gay marriage increased at a rate of 1% a year. Starting in 2010 the change in the level of support accelerated to 5% a year. The most recent public polling shows supporters of gay marriage outnumber opponents by a margin of roughly 10% (for instance: NBC/WSJ poll in February / March: support 49%, oppose 40%).

The increase in support is taking place among all partisan groups. While more Democrats support gay marriage than Republicans, support levels among Republicans are increasing over time. The same is true of age: younger people support same sex marriage more often than older people, but the trends show that all age groups are rethinking their position.

For months now, supporters of Colorado’s civil unions Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Pat Steadman, D-Denver, have pointed to survey data that demonstrates similar rapidly building public support for gay rights in the state. Surveys commissioned by Christian organizations and presented by Christian-right lawmakers opposed to the bill and that suggest support has dipped for civil unions here have been mostly written off as unreliable.

At the state Republican Party meetings held last month, 45 percent of delegates to the state convention– party activists from around the state– supported civil unions.

High-profile GOP attorney Mario Nicolais, spokesman for Coloradans for Freedom, a Republican coalition formed in support of the civil unions bill this year, argued repeatedly before legislative committees that the Republican Party was the party of family values and that Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Pat Steadman, D-Denver, would put in place vital legal protections for gay couples and their children presently absent in state statutes. Establishing child support and visitation rights, he said, for example, would promote the kind of responsibility proponents of conservative values have championed for decades.

During the regular session of the legislature, the civil unions bill passed the Democratic-controlled Senate and won bipartisan majorities in three Republican-controlled House committees.

Yet House leaders led by Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, killed the bill on the second-to-last day of the session. A Republican bloc ran out the clock with a filibuster and then a recess called when it became clear Democrats and their Republican allies had gathered enough votes to halt the filibuster and force a vote on civil unions.

McNulty promised a fair hearing for the bill throughout the regular legislative session. His actions on the floor of the House last week, however, suggest he is determined to make sure the bill doesn’t pass into law during this heated election year.

In the special session, the bill has to start from scratch. It has to pass the Senate and make it through House Committees. Although supporters of the bill won over key committee members in select committees during the regular session, McNulty can now assign the bill to any House committee he chooses and he can also appoint whomever he likes to those committees.

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