A Bipartisan Rejection of Discrimination

(March 9) – A pair of intertwined bills that would have given Coloradans the right to discriminate against other Coloradans were defeated today by a bipartisan majority on the House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee.

The first bill debated today was HB15-1171, sponsored by Reps. Patrick Neville, R-Franktown, and Stephen Humphrey, R-Severance. It would have allowed Coloradans to escape penalty for violating any law by claiming that compliance would contradict their religious beliefs.

“It would be dangerous to let people decide to refuse to follow laws they don’t like,” Dave Montez, director of the LGBT rights group One Colorado, told the committee. “But that is exactly what House Bill 1171 would do.”

HB15-1161, sponsored by Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, R-Colorado Springs, would have gutted Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits business owners from picking and choosing which members of the public they will do business with. The bills seem to proceed from recent incidents in which a Lakewood baker refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple and a second baker refused to decorate a cake with a homophobic message. Hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment, but the bill would have allowed a merchant to refuse to serve someone because of who he or she is — gay or straight or Christian or non-Christian or whatever.

“In one case you have the business owner, who’s discriminating against members of the LGBT community because he says it would be offensive to his religion to serve those individuals because they’re members of the LGBT community,” Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, explained during testimony. “In the second scenario, it’s not that the owner doesn’t like the customer, it’s that he doesn’t like the fact that the customer wants to promote hate speech.”

Aside from the numerous constitutional, rule-of-law and civil rights arguments against the bills, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce testified against them because they would have been bad for business.

HB15-1171 was defeated on a 4-7 vote, with Rep. Dan Thurlow, R-Grand Junction, joining the committee’s six Democrats in voting “no.” HB15-1161 went down 2-9, with Reps. Jack Tate, R-Centennial, and Yeulin Willett, R-Grand Junction, joining Rep. Thurlow and the Democrats in opposition.

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