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DENVER — At a “pro-marriage” rally on the Capitol’s west steps Friday, opponents of civil unions legislation that would grant same-sex couples equal protection under the law denounced it as “bigoted” and “hatred.”

Another speaker argued that the measure actually “persecutes” the religious.

At the event, organized by the Colorado Catholic Conference, opponents of Senate Bill 11 bemoaned the fact that it no longer contains an exemption for adoption agencies that prefer not to work with gay couples for religious reasons.

Last year’s bill, which included that exemption, would already be law if not for former House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, who decided to shut down the legislature on the session’s penultimate day as a last resort to avoid a vote and effectively kill that bill, which would have passed the full House with some GOP support.

“It doesn’t take courage to do the right thing,” McNulty said to cheers at Friday’s rally. “Marriage should be reinforced, not redefined.”

Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, who served as House Majority Leader under McNulty the last two years, pushed back at the idea that the legislative meltdown over civil unions cost House Republicans their majority, even though Democrats won every single competitive statehouse race last November.

Former state lawmaker Ed Jones took aim at the bill’s sponsor who is also McNulty’s predecessor as Speaker, Rep. Mark Ferrandino, for having a “wife” he called “Eric”, even though the lawmaker has a husband whose name is actually Greg.

“Gays don’t have to be that way,” Jones said, ignoring overwhelming science that states otherwise.

“It’s unfortunate that in a debate about how we can support all loving families in Colorado, some people decide to resort to name-calling and personal attacks,” Ferrandino said Friday upon hearing about the rally.

And Stephens, who did go out of her way to call Ferrandino’s co-sponsor, Sen. Pat Steadman, a “decent man”, also called civil unions backers “cowards” for refusing to put the measure on the ballot.

All of this, apparently, without irony.

Here’s the thing — elections have consequences.

Even if the GOP was likely to lose its one-seat majority regardless of civil unions, voters’ broad repudiation of Republican House candidates last fall was, in part, a message of support for the legislation and an obvious rebuke to GOP leadership for letting ideology override a fair legislative process.

Why isn’t the exemption for adoption agencies in the bill this year?

Because Democrats, who found it discriminatory, won the election and no longer have to worry about securing Republican votes.

Pretty simple, really.

And had that clause been the only sticking point for conservatives last year, it’s only logical to conclude that McNulty would have allowed a final vote.

Are there any conservative lawmakers out there demanding that this religious exemption be added to the bill who are willing to vote yes when it is?

Didn’t think so.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told fellow Republican leaders it was time to stop being the “stupid party.”

“We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments,” he said. “We’ve had enough of that.”

Moreover, Jindal argued, it’s time for the GOP to recalibrate and to “stop insulting the intelligence of voters.”

The 150 people who attended Friday’s rally — in a state where polls show more than 70 percent of voters support civil unions — proved that Republicans have an uphill battle ahead, and don’t have to be a political or popular majority to do more damage to their already tarnished brand.

At the rally, former talk radio host Dan Caplis argued that Gov. John Hickenlooper would hurt his own moderate credentials by signing the civil unions bill into law.

Hickenlooper, who called a special session last May after McNulty blew up the legislative process, tweeted back from Davos, Switzerland on Friday.

“Civil unions is about justice and economic prosperity,” read the tweet from that cautious, moderate governor. “We’ve said before, saying again: Pass this bill!”

The legislation itself, expected to sail through the Senate and then the House, could be law by March.

And that will be the best news in a longtime for realistic Republicans, who have seen the LGBT push for equality used as a wedge issue by Democratic candidates in Colorado with great success.

But only if these few “pro-marriage” magical thinkers are willing to stop fighting this losing battle.

And, well, don’t count on that.

“When are we going to say this is over?” Caplis asked the crowd Friday.

“Never! We are never going to say this is over.”