Colorado Elects Ferrandino, First Openly Gay Speaker of the House
After picking up five seats in the 2012 election, Democrats regained control of the Colorado House of Representatives, and announced their intention to elect Rep. Mark Ferrandino to be the state’s Speaker of the House, making him the first openly gay legislator in Colorado to hold that position. His selection will be ratified on January 9, 2013, when the next legislative session begins.
The outcome of the election -- both the Democratic majority and the selection of Ferrandino as Speaker -- could not be more welcome to Colorado’s gay and lesbian citizens. LGBT Coloradans and their allies faced serious setbacks when the most recent legislative session raised and then dashed hopes of recognition for same-sex relationships.
As the session drew to a close, Republican leaders, including Speaker Frank McNulty, maneuvered to block a bill that would have legalized civil unions for same-sex couples. The bill had enough supporters, including several Republicans, to have passed had it been put to a vote. After it was killed, many LGBT people felt frustrated and stymied.
"Everyone was very hopeful last year," said Ferrandino, who sponsored the defeated civil union bill. "But people were disappointed in how the session ended, and now it’s important that we restore the public’s confidence in the institution."
Instead of dwelling on the setbacks of the recent past, Ferrandino is looking to the future with optimism. With Democrats in the majority, there seems little reason to fear that civil unions will be postponed again.
"We’ll definitely see the passage of civil unions. There’s much more hope that it will be successful this session," Ferrandino told EDGE. "There will definitely be different outcomes in some of the legislative fights, but we’ll try to work across the aisle."
While civil unions may be achieved in the near future, gay marriage is still a long way off for Colorado. Amendment 43, passed in 2006, defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. True equality for same-sex couples would require its repeal.
"Voters would have to make that decision at the ballot box," Ferrandino said. "Our priority now is to continue to push for civil unions."
Colorado was once nicknamed "the hate state" due to its 1992 passage of Amendment 2, which prohibited laws that would protect gay, lesbian or bisexual people from discrimination based on orientation. But Amendment 2 was later ruled unconstitutional, and Colorado has since evolved in its stance on LGBT rights.
Colorado Now One of Most Progressive States for LGBT Equality
"Colorado is one of the most progressive states in the country in terms of LGBT equality," said Ferrandino.
While the state is not a forerunner in marriage equality, it does offer stronger protections against discrimination for transgender and gender non-conforming people than most other places in the U.S.
The face of Colorado politics reflects the changing priorities and demographics of the state’s population. In addition to the election of a gay man as Speaker of the House, Colorado’s legislature is now arguably the most diverse it has ever been. The upcoming legislative session will include five black representatives, more than ever before, as well as a record eight openly gay lawmakers, and twelve Latino lawmakers, the most in recent years.
"Having more diversity and more points of view in the legislature represents the diversity within the state," said Ferrandino. "You’ll see things coming up that are important to the Latino community, and things like civil unions go forward, because we have a number of legislators that care about those issues. We have to build a consensus and allow minorities to have a voice to speak and a seat at the table."
Representative Paul Rosenthal, one of five openly gay representatives in the Colorado House, agreed.
"It is groundbreaking how not only have we elected the first gay Speaker in Colorado history and the most out LGBT legislators ever, but also, as I look around at my future colleagues in the State House, I am amazed at our incredible diversity," he said. "This diversity truly represents all Coloradans around the state."
Ferrandino became the first openly gay man to serve in the Colorado General Assembly when he was elected through a vacancy committee in 2007, and in November 2011 he became the Colorado House’s first openly gay minority leader.
In addition to pushing for LGBT rights, his legislative priorities include health care, employment and education.
"We need to help small businesses grow and get off the ground, and partner with higher education to help with job creation and retraining," he said. "One of the things we have to do is work on a smart and effective implementation of national health care reform, looking at how we fund and deal with that expansion. LGBT people and families need to be included in conversations about health care."