Civil unions bill treads on religious rights
By Nissa LaPoint
Supporters stand up for traditional
Photo by Nissa LaPoint/DCR
A bill allowing gay couples to form civil unions gained momentum last week in the state Legislature despite protests of its religious liberty violations and overriding the will of voters.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed Senate Bill 11, or the Colorado Civil Unions Act, by a 3-2 vote after hours of testimony at the state Capitol Jan. 23. An amendment proposed by Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Larimer, to provide a religious conscience clause failed.
Proponents of same-sex unions argued for legal recognition of gay relationships but supporters of traditional marriage cried out that the bill treads on religious liberty.
“There is no need to force individuals to violate their deeply held religious beliefs,” said Kellie Fiedorek with the Alliance Defending Freedom. “Yet we’ve handled multiple cases where laws expanding sexual liberty have negatively impacted regular every day Americans because they have a sincere religious belief about sex and marriage.”
The bill, opponents stated, does not include the same legal protections and moral exemptions included in last year’s proposed bill.
The civil union bill, a parallel structure to marriage, now moves to the Appropriations Committee. Gov. John Hickenlooper announced that he would sign it into law if it reaches his desk.
The Colorado Catholic Conference, the state-level public policy arm of the Catholic Church, responded by co-sponsoring a marriage rally with the Colorado Family Institute at the state Capitol Jan. 25 to show support for traditional marriage and oppose civil unions.
The Church has stated that marriage is the cornerstone of society and exists for the benefit of children and the protection of women. All people, including those with homosexual tendencies, must be treated with compassion and their God-given dignity respected.
Yet sacred Scripture and tradition states homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and are contrary to the natural law. “They do not proceed from a genuine affective sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
At the hearings, Mark Rohlena, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, testified that the passage of the bill would threaten its ability to follow its religious convictions about marriage and continue its adoptive and foster-care services.
“I was a little surprised by some of the testimony today that folks are comfortable using this bill as a tool for discrimination against those who have religious beliefs,” Rohlena told the Judiciary Committee.
His agency, he said, has adopted 314 children and serves 10 counties. He said in other states, like Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington, Catholic Charities was forced out of the adoption and foster care business because of similar civil unions laws.
“I think based on what I’ve heard today that would be a similar type of battle we’re facing here,” he said.
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver released a statement Jan. 23 about the bill.
“We partner with foster and adoptive families to form a community of support, and a community in faith,” the statement read. “(Senate Bill) 11, as currently written, restricts the ability of agencies like Catholic Charities to partner with foster and adoptive families who share common purpose, and live common values. Without safeguards to protect religious communities, the vital work of many child placement agencies in Colorado will be threatened.”
Opponents of the bill further testified that the bill will open more businesses owners and private citizens to the possibility of lawsuits.
Nicolle Martin, an attorney with Colorado Family Action, testified about the Lakewood baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple and faced fines and a jail sentence. She said the bill lacks a necessary exemption for First Amendment rights.
“This glaring deficiency will open the flood-gates of litigation,” she said.
A further flaw is the legislation contradicts the will of Coloradoans, who in 2006 rejected Referendum I, an equivalent of civil unions, and passed Amendment 43,which defines marriage as between one man and one woman.