By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - A same-sex civil unions bill was defeated in a Colorado legislative committee on Monday, marking the second time in a week that Republican lawmakers blocked an up-or-down vote on the issue by the state's full House of Representatives.
The bill's demise came at the start of a special legislative session ordered by Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper to push for the measure a day after President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to endorse same-sex marriage.
The Colorado bill had cleared the state Senate and appeared headed for possible passage in the House, but Republican leaders kept it from reaching the floor for a final vote there before the General Assembly's regular session ended last week.
The measure would have allowed same-sex domestic partners to make end-of-life medical decisions for one another and become eligible for certain insurance and retirement benefits.
The bill's Democratic House sponsor, Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, blasted Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty for assigning the measure to a "death row" committee where he knew the bill lacked the support to advance. Democrats control the Colorado Senate while Republicans hold a one-vote majority in the House.
"Last week, he (McNulty) didn't have enough votes to stop civil unions, so he played procedural games to allow his minority to thwart the majority of the House and of the people of Colorado," Ferrandino said. "Today, he still doesn't have the votes, so he assigns civil unions to his kill committee."
McNulty blamed the governor and statehouse Democrats for trying to force the bill "to the front of the line" ahead of more urgent issues.
"Unlike President Obama, Governor Hickenlooper and their campaign operatives, Colorado families aren't preoccupied with promoting a divisive social agenda - because they have more pressing concerns," McNulty said.
Opponents also argued that Colorado voters already spoke to the issue in 2006, when they rejected a gay marriage ballot measure while at the same time approving a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
Additionally, opponents said, a 2009 beneficiary-designation law already addresses the concerns same-sex couples had in seeking to recognize civil unions.
Nine states have civil unions or domestic partnership laws on their books, while eight other states and the District of Columbia have approved gay marriage, or are awaiting enactment of legislation to legalize same-sex matrimony.
Brad Clark, executive director of the gay rights advocacy coalition One Colorado, said Republican lawmakers who blocked the civil unions measure would pay a political price.
"Colorado voters will not forget that House leadership pandered to the far-right fringe of their party and killed a bill that was assured passage on the House floor," he said. "Come November, we will win a pro-equality majority that will vote to protect all loving couples."
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)