Civil unions introduced on first day of Democrat-led legislature

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DENVER -- State lawmakers went back to work Wednesday morning on a historic morning at the Capitol.

Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, became Colorado's first openly gay Speaker of the House and was officially handed the gavel by Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch.

It was a moment ripe with symbolism, coming seven months after McNulty killed Ferrandino's civil unions legislation on the session's penultimate day.

With Ferrandino's elevation and the new 37-member Democratic House majority, Democrats no control both legislative chambers on the Capitol's second floor, with Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper presiding one floor below.

The session could be a challenge for Hickenlooper if Democrats send a stream of increasingly partisan legislation to the moderate governor's desk.

Lawmakers have already signaled an intention to address hot-button issues like gun control, repealing the death penalty and regulations for marijuana, which voters legalized in November.

The civil unions bill and a proposal to lower college tuition for undocumented students, both of which have been blocked by Republicans the past two years, are certain to pass both chambers early in the session.

This year's version of the civil unions legislation was introduced Wednesday morning as Senate Bill 11.

And, in his opening day speech to the House, the Democratic leader quoted Ayn Rand, a favorite author of many libertarians, in an opening call for the passage of civil unions.

"One of my favorite authors, Ayn Rand, wrote: '[T]he political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities.'

"In that spirit," Ferrandino continued, "we must acknowledge that all committed couples deserve equal protection under the law, forever end Colorado's 'hate state' nickname, and, with bipartisan cooperation, pass civil unions this year."

In opening day speeches, Ferrandino and new Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, both said they plan to focus on job creation and education.

Republican leaders Rep. Mark Waller and Sen. Bill Cadman, both from Colorado Springs, promised to work with Democrats to move the state forward.