Anyone who thought the 1990s culture wars in Colorado were over hasn’t been following efforts by Republicans in the state House of Representatives.
A GOP lawmaker in the lower chamber again tried to roll back protections for the LGBTQ community this week, saying Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws that protect sexual orientation and gender identity run afoul of protections for religious beliefs.
On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee debated a proposed new law introduced by Rep. Stephen Humphrey, a Republican from Eaton, that, if passed, would allow businesses and employers to discriminate based on sincerely held religious beliefs— bucking longstanding civil rights protections, which are guaranteed in Colorado.
“Right now I don’t think we have a balance that is protecting people of faith,” Humphrey told the committee.
Lining up in support of the bill were religious adoption centers who say current state law is forcing them to either act as law-abiding citizens or follow their beliefs. Without the protections a new law would give them, they said, they may be forced to shut down their adoption centers.
“We believed that children are best served when they are raised by parents of men and women,” Beth Woods, who is the director for Hope’s Promise, an adoption center in Castle Rock, told the committee.
Democrats who control the committee voted down the bill 7-4 along party lines, echoes of which appeared elsewhere in at least one other proposed measure that has already died this year.
Earlier this month, Humphrey, for instance, offered an amendment to a separate proposed law to reauthorize the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that gave similar protections to religious groups. Democrats voted down the amendment on the House floor.
Humphrey mentioned the owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips, when he was defending his bill, saying that people are scared.
He was referencing the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case that is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. The high-profile legal showdown over Christian religious beliefs and gay rights, involves Phillips, the owner of the cakeshop, who claims he did not discriminate against would-be customers Charlie Craig and David Mullins in July 2012 by refusing to make them a custom wedding cake. Phillips says he is a victim of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law whose insistence that he serve same-sex couples violates his belief that homosexuality is a sin and conflicts with his constitutionally protected artistic expression.
Craig and Mullins came to the Capitol on Tuesday to testify against the bill.
“Freedom of religion is essential in our country, but that doesn’t mean you can practice your faith in a way that demeans others or excludes them from public life,” Mullins told reporters after their testimony.
About 25 years ago, Colorado voters passed Amendment 2, which stripped protections for homosexuals. The law was later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Leading the effort to keep this law off the books was Jean Dubofsky, the first woman to serve as a Colorado Supreme Court justice. She was also at the committee meeting on Tuesday to testify against it.
“This bill applies to anyone who doesn’t like LGBT people,” Dubofsky said. “And they would be protected by this bill.”