Colorado Senate committee OKs religious adoption rules, nixes conversion therapy ban

Author: Joey Bunch - April 24, 2018 - Updated: May 10, 2018

One Colorado adoptionAppalenia Udell, an attorney and former court-appointed special advocate who worked with abused and neglected children in foster care in Colorado, spoke against a bill that would allow adoption and foster care agencies from using religion as a reason to deny children to same-sex couples (Photo David Pourshoushtari/One Colorado)

A Republican majority on a Colorado Senate committee took two opposite actions that riled up gay rights advocates Monday night.

The Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee passed a rule on adoptions that the gay rights organization says is designed to allow discrimination against same-sex couple. It also voted down a bill that would have banned licensed therapist for practicing conversion therapy or minors questioning their sexuality.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, who sponsored Senate Bill 241, said discrimination isn’t always a bad thing.

“Some uses of discrimination are not illegal,” he said. “We identify what is illegal, because it’s wrong.”

Beth Woods, executive director of Hope’s Promise, a Christian adoption service in Denver, said her service works with pregnant women to place their child up for adoption and find loving adoptive parents.

“For us this is a ministry, not a business,” she said. “The work we do is motivated by our faith. We believe God has called us to walk alongside those who are grieving and support them in a journey of healing and redemption. Our vision is that every child will have the opportunity to grow up in nurturing Christian family.”

Advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer Coloradans said the religious beliefs of those working for adoption services should not between children and good parents.

“This bill allows discrimination contrary to the best interests of children in desperate need of loving, caring homes,” said Laura “Pinky” Reinsch, the political director for One Colorado, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization.

Denver lawyer Laurence Gendelman told the committee the religious allowance is contrary to settled law on discrimination.

“In my capacity as an attorney, I could not make a straight-faced argument that this bill is constitutional,” he said.

The legislation passed on a 3-2 party-line vote. With two weeks left in the session, the bill is dead on arrival once it reaches the House, where Democrats have a solid majority.

House Democrats sent the Republican-held Senate the conversion therapy ban for a fourth year in a row. The bill never had a chance, but it’s one of the examples Democrats hope will help them overtake the Republicans’ one-seat majority in the upper chamber in November.

House Bill 1245 died on another party-line vote. It was sponsored by Reps. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver, and Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, and carried in the Senate by Sen. Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder.

“What this bill doesn’t do is prohibit the practice by clergy,” Fenberg said. “… It doesn’t apply to an adult who through their own volition seeks out the services.”

He added, “Being gay is not a mental health problem. You can’t use therapy to ungay someone.”

While some people talk of the damage the therapy did to their sense of self-worth, others who had undergone the therapy said it helped them sort through issues, including their sexual preference and gender identity.

Others said there are no complaints stacking up against therapists who talk to minors about same-sex attraction. Others said it’s a decision that should be reserved for parents and mental health professionals.

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, said the bill was counter-intuitive. He said it instructs therapist to support minors with acceptance and support but not to change their thoughts or behaviors about being gay. The reason people go to the therapy is to seek change, he said.

“This bill would eliminate the purpose to therapy if therapy means a desire to change,” he said.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.