MONTROSE – In a time of hyper-partisanship, a sharp public disagreement on one of the most contentious issues of the day, bringing them both briefly into the national spotlight, has not divided a Montrose father and son.
Both Don Coram and Dee Coram say they have moved beyond the fallout from State Rep. Don Coram’s May 14 vote, as chair of the House Appropriations Committee in the Colorado General Assembly; Coram, House Representative from District 58, voted against bringing Senate Bill 2 to the House floor for full consideration. The bill, which would have given same-sex couples the right to enter into civil unions in Colorado, split squarely along party lines, and failed by one vote.
Don Coram counters that he was in a no-win position.
"No matter how I voted, there was going to be a story,” he said, in a recent sit-down with Dee, again at the Coffee Trader.
“Either I voted against my gay son, or I voted against my district," he said.
Partisans put the proverbial black and white hats on whichever man reflected their opinions. For a while, Dee, who acknowledges disappointment at his father’s vote, found himself the reluctant poster child for gay rights, while Don was portrayed as the intolerant Republican. Both men received death threats.
Hundreds of protesters of same-sex marriage rallied to support Don Coram, who maintains it was the definition of “spouse,” in the bill's language, that compelled him to oppose the legislation.
"My vote was based upon what was in the [State] Constitution," Don Coram said this week.
What led him to vote no on Senate Bill 2 was its frequent use of the word “spouse.”
“You go to the dictionary and look up the word ‘spouse,’ and it says the definition is someone in a marriage between a man and woman," he explained. Coram reasoned that approving the bill could violate a 2006 voter-approved amendment to the State Constitution defining marriage as an agreement between a man and woman.
Anything that might change the definition of marriage should go to ballot, said Don Coram, who is a member of the state's Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, a nine-member panel comprised of five Republicans and four Democrats that’s often referred to as “the kill committee," where Senate Bill 2 died on a 5-4 vote.
In the days after the vote, both Don Coram and Dee Coram received calls from media outlets across the country.
Both men felt the callers were hoping for a father-son “death match” fight on the issue of civil unions.
But the real story, they maintain, is about a simple yet fundamental disagreement between two men connected by a strong father-son bond that runs counter to the expectations of screaming-headline writers.
"Frankly, I've received a lot support from the gay community,” Don said, since his vote against Senate Bill 2.
“Some have said, ‘I know this was a tough decision for you, and we know why you made this decision, and we hope there is still a good relationship with your son'," he added.
Both men emphasize that their relationship is stronger than most people might think.
"You know, we still talk and joke, and agree on about 50 percent of everything," Dee said.
In the months since his father’s vote, Dee Coram reports he has received praise from all over the country and beyond, with well-wishers traveling from as far as Florida and Spain to shake his hand.
At the Coffee Trader, he speaks calmly of the incident that’s now well behind him, exhibiting a kind of "what else is new?" attitude.
Change on the same-sex marriage front in this almost evenly divided swing state isn't likely to come any time soon. Dee Coram plans to continue to advocate for equal rights in any way he can, but said that sensationalized reports continuing to suggest he’s pitted against his father on the issue are not helpful.
He dismissed reports that appeared in print earlier this month, citing rumors that he might run in the upcoming election against his father (who is currently unopposed).
The rumors weren't true, says the younger Coram, adding that he was never endorsed as a candidate by the local Democratic party.
“They never solicited me to run,” said Dee Coram. What he has won kudos for, however, is staying calm in the center of the storm.
"People come in and say, ‘You know, you've really handled yourself well, but this is starting to get ridiculous.’”
Spoken like a natural-born politician.