American Independent, 9/7/2012 [Archive]

The GOP Battle Over Gay Rights

The GOP Battle Over Gay Rights

By John Tomasic, The American Independent

The debate over gay rights in the United States that matters most will likely not be waged from partisan trenches. That's the takeaway from the battle over a same-sex civil unions bill that took place during the legislative session in Colorado this past spring.

The bill would have provided gay couples with many of the benefits and protections the state presently provides to straight married couples. Democratic lawmakers all backed the legislation, but Republicans clashed rancorously with Republicans over its fate.

In the end, the bill was killed by Republican leaders, but not before GOP Rep. B.J. Nikkel cast the surprise committee vote that sped the bill toward the House floor and sent leaders scrambling to head it off. And it was Nikkel, not Democratic lawmakers, who suffered the brunt of the harassment from the bill's opponents.

As a guest at an awards ceremony hosted by gay-rights group One Colorado in August, Nikkel said the bigotry and intimidation she experienced in the days before and after her vote have strengthened her position in support of civil unions. She said she's confident conservatives will come to see the bill as consistent with their social values and that next year's version of the bill will pass with significant Republican backing.

"I voted my conscience. I thought it was the right thing and I still do," she said. "I want more people to commit to long-term relationships, to be able to protect their families, just as the law now helps [straight couples] protect their families."

Nikkel described a visit to Israel she made last year and how her thoughts about civil unions evolved partly as a result. She reflected on the discrimination Jews faced in Europe and referred to relatively open gay-rights laws in Israel now. She said she came to believe that "life would be better for a lot of Coloradans if we passed a civil unions bill" and then talked about the strong reaction she weathered around the vote.

"There was a truck circling the capitol with a sign that said I was going to hell. I became aware of the bigotry many of you face every day and I happened to find out some of it would be directed at me ... I received phone calls, texts, calls to my home, Robo calls, in-person criticism at my church."

She said that, at one point last session, Democratic state Rep. Daniel Kagan told her the story of how a brave person had helped his grandparents escape from a Nazi ghetto.

"They escaped because of one person with a heart," she said. "I understood just a little bit of the persecution Jews and gay people have been subjected to. ... I understood why Jews would support gay rights. We need to be consistent in our fight for equal rights for all."

Nikkel praised conservatives who supported the bill -- including Mario Nicolais, the spokesman for the Republican pro-civil unions group Coloradans for Freedom.

Nicolais, a high-profile Colorado Republican Party figure, testified in favor of the bill at the committee hearing where Nikkel cast her swing vote. His fiery exchanges with Republican members of the committee riveted the packed chamber. After his testimony, he told me he had spoken twice with Nikkel about civil unions in the months leading up to the vote and that he made the case for the bill based on family values and constitutional protections of civil rights.

"This is about civil rights," he said, referencing a James Madison passage of the Federalist Papers. "It's not something you decide through a series of 30-second campaign commercials. It's something for a deliberative body to consider. We live in a representative republic."

Nikkel told me Nicolais' testimony strengthened her conviction that civil unions was a conservative policy that lawmakers were right to take up, despite the fact that Coloradans voted down a civil unions ballot initiative in 2006.

At the awards ceremony, she seemed to want to buck up any Republicans in the crowd.

"We have to have stamina, backbone. ... I wish we resolved this issue last session, but we will this coming session. I look forward to more Republicans voting in favor of this bill."

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©Copyright 2012 The American Independent, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

The American Independent is a nonprofit newsroom that funds and publishes independent investigative journalism, and can be reached at editor@americanindependent.com.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.




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