Ever better. Meliora. At UR, students are encouraged to live by that rule, on campus and beyond. Colorado Representative Mark Ferrandino ’99, ’00 (MS) took the motto of Meliora and ran with it, becoming the first openly gay House Speaker for his state.
The concept of Meliora was in Ferrandino’s life long before his time here at UR. As a child, he was placed into special education classes because of his learning disabilities, but overcame them with hard work.
With his determination as well as his family’s support, he quieted the naysayers and doubters to achieve, eventually attending UR and earning degrees in political science and economics. After getting his Master’s degree, he went on to work for the Department of Justice and the White House Office of Management and Budget before being elected to his current position as a state representative.
While working in Washington, he met Greg Wertsch, who has been his partner ever since. Wertsch took a job out in Colorado earlier, bringing Ferrandino to the place he now calls home.
The 2012 elections shifted the majority power of the Colorado house from Republican to Democratic. Much of this electoral shift comes in light of a house vote to permit civil unions for same sex couples within the state.
When it appeared that the legislation had the necessary support (including that of the governor this past May), previous speaker Rep. Frank McNulty refused to let the bill be brought up for debate.
This outraged many in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) community and more importantly, voters, who made their voices heard on Election Day. Ferrandino championed this cause, one that has not always had such support.
Colorado has been infamously known as “the hate state” due to a law known as Amendment Two, preventing city, town, or county governments from considering the LGBTQ community as a protected group under anti-discrimination law. Romer vs. Evans, a 1996 Supreme Court case, overturned the amendment. Despite the progress, in 2006 an amendment to the state constitution defined marriage as between only a man and a woman. Twenty-one years after the “hate” law was passed, Ferrandino will shortly be passing a law to legalize same sex civil unions.
“While I don’t know [Ferrandino], we are certainly very proud of all he has done in his career. His work to support the LGBTQ community speaks to Meliora,” Assistant Vice President for Advancement and Alumni Relations Kevin Wesley said. “The University has had a long history of leadership on LGBTQ issues, particularly in the Rochester area, and [Ferrandino’s] work continues that legacy.”
Not only is Ferrandino, age 34, the first openly gay house speaker in Colorado, he was also the first openly gay legislator in the state when first elected in 2007. Along with Ferrandino, Colorado’s Senate President Pro Tempore, Luisa Guzman, is openly gay. In all, there are eight openly LGBTQ members of the Colorado State Assembly.
Although Ferrandino has fought ceaselessly for progress and has accomplished a great deal with this upcoming vote, there is still more to be done.
The coming legislation allows civil unions, providing state level legal protection for same sex couples. This is not the same as legalizing same-sex marriage, in that its portability between states is uncertain and does not carry the same clout and connotation as marriage. Still, his almost unanimous nomination to speaker is a significant symbolic milestone.
Ferrandino explained his thoughts on the coming legislation in an interview with KDVR-Denver, a popular television station.
“We always said it’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of ‘when.’ Well, when is 2013 and we’re going to get civil unions to the governor’s desk early on in the session,” he said.
In addition to his work with LGBTQ rights, Mark has been integral in legislation to help homeowners avoid foreclosure against payday lenders during the housing crisis and state employees get insurance even for their unmarried partners.
Here on campus, students feel proud of Ferrandino’s work.
“Bringing something so controversial to the forefront and breaking barriers is an excellent embodiment of the idea of Meliora,” sophomore Natasha Sacoto said.
Pride Network Social Chair Clint Cantwell is equally pleased with what Rep. Ferrandino has accomplished.
“Seeing such an achievement makes UR Pride that much more prideful,” Cantwell said. “[The LGBTQ community has] fought to make historical leaps in our civil rights. Yet again we see that we can achieve these leaps in rights and [political] representation, whether that be here on campus, Colorado, or the country at large.”
Given all that Ferrandino has done, he remains steadfast in defending his constituents. Above all, his humility shines though.