Election 2018LGBTQNews

Coffman says she’d sign bill repealing ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation

Author: Ernest Luning - March 30, 2018 - Updated: April 2, 2018

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Attorney General Cynthia CoffmanAttorney General Cynthia Coffman speaks in Durango in 2015. (Photo By Brent Lewis/The Denver Post via the AP)

DENVER — Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican candidate for governor, told a GOP group last week she would sign a bill removing protection based on sexual orientation from Colorado’s anti-discrimination law.

Her remarks drew criticism from the state’s leading LGBTQ-advocacy organization, but Coffman later said she meant she would repeal the protection only if it turned out it wasn’t needed anymore.

Coffman, who has staked out a position as a defender of LGBTQ rights, made the remarks at a March 21 meeting of the Greeley Republican Politics for Breakfast group at the end of a discussion about her controversial role defending the state’s nondiscrimination law in a U.S. Supreme Court Court case about a Lakewood baker who cited religious reasons when he refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.

“I frankly think there should be an exception in discrimination for public accommodation law for a business owner to say, ‘I am not going to bake this cake because it violates my religious belief,'” Coffman said, according to an audio recording of the breakfast meeting obtained by Colorado Politics. She concluded, “I think there has to be a place for both sides of this dispute to live comfortably.”

At that, the host said he had another question.

“The follow-up, then, to that is, if you’re elected governor, if we someday we get Republican majorities, if someday they run a bill that would repeal that 2008 portion of the law that has (sexual orientation and gender identity) as a discrimination point, if they try to repeal that, would you sign that bill if it’s given to you?” he asked.

“I would,” Coffman replied. “Thank you, that helps,” the host said.

He was referring to a 2008 bill signed by Gov. Bill Ritter that added protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s public accommodations law, which requires businesses to serve the public without discriminating. It’s been at the center of controversy this year at the Capitol as Republican lawmakers have tried to strip funding for the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which sanctioned the baker.

After reviewing a recording of Coffman’s remarks before the Republican group, a staffer at One Colorado, the state’s leading LGBTQ-advocacy organization, said her statement “feels like a betrayal” from someone the group has long considered an ally.

In a written statement provided by a campaign spokesman, Coffman said she would be willing to repeal the protection in the future if legislators determined there was no longer any discrimination based on sexual orientation in Colorado.

“The General Assembly added sexual orientation as a category protected from discrimination based on a finding of inherent discrimination. If Colorado’s elected representatives determine at a future date that such protection no longer is necessary and remove that language, I would sign the bill,” she said. “I have a long and consistent record of successfully defending the rights of all Coloradans both in and out of the courtroom and that will not change once I’m elected governor.”

Through her spokesman, Coffman declined an interview request and didn’t respond to additional questions.

Last summer, Coffman praised Colorado’s anti-bias laws as among the strongest in the country when she addressed a rally celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality on the steps of the state Capitol. She pointed out that her office had recently helped pass bipartisan legislation adding sexual orientation and transgender status to the state’s existing law covering bias-motivated crimes.

“Whatever happens on the national front, and I know there is great fear about what lies ahead because it is unknown to us, let me tell you what we do know about Colorado,” Coffman, the only Republican on stage, told the rally. “This state, your legislators, your state officials — we will all stand up for gay rights, for human rights in Colorado.”

Daniel Ramos, executive director of One Colorado, said in a written statement that he was concerned Coffman appeared to be “hedg[ing] her stance” now that she was running for governor.

“Given Attorney General Coffman’s positive record on LGBTQ issues throughout her term — whether it was last year’s bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s harassment laws, to advocating for banning the harmful, discredited practice of conversion therapy, or defending our state’s nondiscrimination laws in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case — it is very concerning to hear her now seemingly hedge her stance on LGBTQ issues as a candidate for governor. No matter your party, the idea of signing any bill into law that would legalize discrimination against LGBTQ Coloradans should be a nonstarter,” Ramos said.

“As the state’s leading advocacy organization for LGBTQ Coloradans and their families, we hope to elect a governor who will stand up for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Coloradans, and we would certainly find it hard to support any candidate who states that they would sign bills into law that would take Colorado backwards in the areas of LGBTQ equality.”

Coffman is one of at least six Republican gubernatorial candidates vying for a spot on the primary ballot at the GOP’s April 14 state assembly in Boulder. Three other Republicans — State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and businessmen Doug Robinson and Victor Mitchell — have submitted petitions to qualify for the ballot.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.