A theme of triumph over tragedy emerged Wednesday as the 2013 legislative session kicked off on a historic note, with the election of the first gay speaker of the House and promises of cooperation under the Democratic-controlled Gold Dome.

A record number of new lawmakers took the oath of office as their proud friends and families lined up for photos.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Bill Cadman touched on Colorado's 2012 tragedies: fatal wildfires and the theater shooting in Aurora that left 12 dead and 58 wounded by gunfire.

He recounted the heroic efforts of firefighters, police officers and everyday citizens, and introduced some who were in the chamber.

"When our people, our neighbors, our friends, our first responders faced the worst of the worst from Mother Nature — and the worst of the worst from mankind — that's when we saw them at their very best," the Colorado Springs Republican said.

"Let's agree to dedicate this session to all who have risen to meet the challenges of the unthinkable events of last year. Let our words and our actions honor the lives of those lost by matching the spirit of selflessness and sacrifice of Colorado's heroes."

Much of the focus was on the House, where Denver Democrat Mark Ferrandino, who overcame learning disabilities to become a budget guru, made history by becoming the first gay Colorado speaker.

He is co-sponsoring a civil unions bill that is expected to sail through the legislature after its shocking death by Republican leaders in the 2012 session.

The new speaker added to the day's surprises by his choice of literature to provide a touch of inspiration.

"One of my favorite authors, Ayn Rand, wrote: 'The political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities,' " Ferrandino said, quoting the conservative icon and author of "Atlas Shrugged."

Colorado Democratic Rep. Jovan Melton and his 8-month-old daughter, Blake Lombard-Melton, pose for photographs Wednesday, the opening day of the 2013
Colorado Democratic Rep. Jovan Melton and his 8-month-old daughter, Blake Lombard-Melton, pose for photographs Wednesday, the opening day of the 2013 legislative session, at the state Capitol in Denver. Melton represents House District 41. (Joe Amon, The Denver Post)

"In that spirit, 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."

Ferrandino bluntly said the House would discuss gun-control legislation, a topic in the national spotlight following mass shootings in Aurora and Connecticut. Gun-rights activists held a rally outside the Capitol later in the day.

"The Second Amendment is sacrosanct," Ferrandino said. "But so is the First. It is our right — and the time is right — to speak openly and honestly about how we can curb the gun violence that costs our communities far too many sons and daughters.

"We have to seek consensus about how to prevent more horrors like the shootings in Aurora and Newtown. That conversation will include guns and mental health."

The Senate also had its firsts, electing Denver Democrat Lucia Guzman as president pro tem. She is the first Hispanic and gay lawmaker to serve in leadership in the Senate.

It also had its surprises with the newly elected president, John Morse, a Colorado Springs Democrat and former paramedic and police chief, recounting in vivid detail a 1979 traffic accident involving a Camaro. He described the heroic but futile efforts of a number of people to save an injured driver, and the shock of learning that a bystander he asked to hold IV bags was actually the dead man's father.

"It became a lesson about coming together, no matter how desperate the moment," he said. "We will have many different focuses this session. I have no doubt we can work together."

The speech — which was delivered without prepared remarks — drew some raised eyebrows and startled looks, but was more memorable than policy-laden talks that have been delivered over the years on opening day.

How did Republicans receive it?

"I thought it was very heartfelt and very well meaning," said Sen. Ted Harvey of Highlands Ranch, lending another example of first-day bipartisanship heading into the 120-day session.

Lynn Bartels: 303-954-5327, lbartels@denverpost.com or twitter.com/lynn_bartels


New session, new bills

Civil unions for same-sex couples, concealed firearms by school employees and proposals about unions are among the first bills introduced Wednesday, the kickoff of this year's Colorado legislative session. Other notable bills introduced:

House Bill 1033: Republican bill to ban abortions and makes it a felony for doctors who perform them.

House Bill 1021: Democratic bill to addresses truancy at schools, requiring districts to monitor students who miss several days.

Senate Bill 6: Republican bill to prohibit reductions in school funding when funding proposed Medicaid expansion.

House Bill 1012: Continues tax deduction for homeowners who conduct wildfire mitigation. Bill has bipartisan support.

Senate Bill 18: Democratic bill to restrict an employer's use of credit information during the hiring process. Bill failed last year.

The Associated Press