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Bill to allow LGBTQ discrimination by adoption agencies fails in Senate

Author: Marianne Goodland - May 1, 2018 - Updated: May 1, 2018

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Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, in a 2016 file photo (John Tomasic, Colorado Politics)

A measure that would have allowed Colorado faith-based adoption agencies to discriminate based on religious beliefs failed to clear the state Senate Tuesday morning.

Senate Bill 241 died on a voice vote in the Senate on second reading, with just a few votes in favor and a loud chorus of “no’s” against.

A later recorded vote showed the measure failed 16-19, with two Republicans — Sens. Don Coram of Montrose and Beth Martinez Humenik of Thorton — voting against, along with unaffiliated Sen. Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge and the entire Democratic caucus. Other Republicans voted in favor.

Senate Bill 241 would have prohibited the state government from taking action against any person or organization that exercises its religious beliefs and refuses to provide adoption services based on those beliefs.

While the bill’s statutory changes don’t identify same-sex couples or LGBTQ persons, the bill’s legislative intent declaration identified actions in favor of same-sex couples and against faith-based adoption agencies as its motives.

The bill pointed to faith-based adoption agencies that have closed in other states because of their religious beliefs tied to views about same-sex marriage. SB 241 did not identify any in Colorado that have been forced to close for those reasons.

The bill would have prohibited the state government from taking certain adverse action against a person or organization for their religious beliefs in relation to adoptive and foster care services.

Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud, the bill’s Senate sponsor, has pushed for changes to state law this session to allow discrimination against LGBTQ Coloradans under the premise of “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Lundberg told a “Religious Freedom Rally” at Colorado Christian University last November he and his colleagues would work to change the mission of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in the 2018 session so that the commission would defend people like Lakewood baker Jack Phillips.

In a case that has received national attention, Phillips refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple based on his religious beliefs. The couple filed a complaint with the Division of Civil Rights, which found probable cause that Phillips violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission upheld that finding, as did the Colorado Court of Appeals. Phillips appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard the case in December and is expected to issue a ruling within the next two months.

Lundberg was was one of three Republicans on the Joint Budget Committee who voted against 2018-19 funding for the agency while a bill reauthorizing the commission and Division of Civil Rights moved through the General Assembly.

However, not one Republican lawmaker has tried to change the commission’s mission to allow for discrimination against LGBTQ people because of religious beliefs. The General Assembly, through the 2018-19 budget, added amendments that restored the agency’s funding for the coming year.

The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Stephen Humphrey of Severance, earlier this session sponsored a bill that would allow discrimination against same-sex couples based on religious beliefs held by individuals or religious organizations.

“Do you think so little of individual liberties of the people of Colorado that you would turn a blind eye to their religious convictions?” Lundberg asked during Tuesday’s debate.

The personal face of opposition to the bill in the Senate Tuesday was Sen. Dominick Moreno, Democrat of Commerce City, a gay man who sits on the Joint Budget Committee with Lundberg.

“This issue will keep coming up again and again — this issue of my civil rights versus someone else’s religious liberty,” Moreno told the Senate. “As a gay man, there are still places where I’m not welcome.”

At 33 years old, Moreno said he’s beginning to think about what his family would look like, and that foster care and adoption are both options.

“I’d be a good father,” Moreno said. “If I’m willing to provide a good home, a loving and stable household for a child, what more matters than that?”

Lundberg insisted the bill would not prohibit Moreno or any other LGBTQ person from adopting, pointing out that there are more than 260 adoption agencies in Colorado. Only a handful — faith-based agencies — prohibit LGBTQ people from seeking adoptions through their agencies, he said.

Daniel Ramos of One Colorado, an advocacy group for LGBTQ Coloradans, cheered the Senate vote.

“The freedom of religion is important – that is why it is protected in the First Amendment of the Constitution. But no one’s religion should serve as a license to discriminate in adoption, foster care, or child abuse in our great state. This was another installment in a series of horrific bills we have seen this session that would take Colorado backward in the areas of LGBTQ equality, and its defeat today is a victory for the people of Colorado.”

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.