Last month, Republicans tried to pass one of the most sweeping religious exemption laws in state history, one that would have opened LGBTQ Coloradans to discrimination by religious institutions, individuals and government employees. One-fifth of the Colorado General Assembly sponsored the Live and Let Live Act, with Senator Kevin Lundberg and Representative Stephen Humphrey leading the effort.
Of course, the bill did not fly in the Democrat-controlled House, but the anti-queer agenda under the guise of religious liberty is still rampant at the Capitol.
On Monday, April 23, anti-LGBTQ conservatives claimed two wins at the Capitol. The first was the passage of the Colorado Children First Act — another Lundberg-Humphrey bill — out of a Senate committee and into Appropriations before moving on to a vote by the full chamber.
This bill would allow foster care and adoption agencies to decline giving a child a home based on the agencies' "sincerely held religious belief" about the sexual orientation or gender identity of the potential parents. Lundberg and Humphrey also drafted the bill to allow foster and adoptive parents to raise their children in households that promote anti-LGBTQ beliefs without fear of action by the state. The bill's accompanying fiscal note is skeptical about the bill's legality, noting that the state could face federal sanctions and lose federal dollars.
"Following the teachings of one's faith is important, but that doesn't mean we should impose our beliefs on others. Religion should not be used as an excuse to discriminate, but that's exactly what this religious exemption would allow," said Reverend Amanda Henderson, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, in a statement about the bill.
Conservatives also scored this week after Republicans on the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee killed a Democrat-backed bill to prohibit conversion therapy by mental-health providers for patients under eighteen. The American Psychological Association has shown the practice of these so-called conversion therapies, which include electric shock therapy, to be rarely effective in changing the sexual orientation of a child and more likely to cause harm, and states that "the results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex attractions or increase other-sex sexual attractions through [sexual orientation change efforts]," according to a 2009 APA report on therapeutic responses to sexual orientation.
"We believe it's wrong that they are out there falling into the hands of people who see them as not normal, not natural, and that's a huge detriment to the development of their self-esteem."
Even though mental health professionals have long conceded that these practices are bogus, Republicans in Colorado and other states have long refused to prohibit them.
This is the fourth year that Democrats have carried the conversion-therapy prohibition bill only to have it die in a Republican-controlled Senate committee. Senator Lucia Guzman, a sponsor of this year's bill and a member of the LGBTQ community, says the bill would have protected vulnerable youth from being exploited.
"When you're an adult, you can make your own decisions about what you want to do and how you want to feel and what kind of direction you want to take," Guzman points out. "But young people like this [in the LGBTQ community] have huge issues with themselves, questions and usually, more times than not, not enough support systems in their lives. ... We believe it's wrong that they are out there falling into the hands of people who see them as not normal, not natural, and that's a huge detriment to the development of their self-esteem."
Neither Lundberg, a Larimer County Republican, nor Humphrey, who hails from Weld County, returned our phone calls.
“This bill was marked for death the instant it passed out of the House, and that is shameful," said Daniel Ramos, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy nonprofit One Colorado, in a statement. "Rather than allow for an honest debate before the full Senate on an issue that affects so many young LGBTQ Coloradans, the Senate failed to follow the lead of their House counterparts who passed this bill on a bipartisan vote, and sent this bill to their ‘kill committee’ for the fourth year in a row."
Since 2016, Lundberg has sponsored more religious-exemption bills than any other member of the General Assembly, including the two aforementioned bills, that would sanction discrimination against queer Coloradans by religious conservatives or religious institutions under the guise of "freedom of religion" and "freedom of conscience." One bill would have differentiated between discrimination and the "right to disagree" with regard to public-accommodation laws. (That bill garnered five Senate sponsors.) The other bill would have exempted religious organizations or businesses with ties to religious organizations from anti-discrimination laws with regard to servicing the LGBTQ community. The bill garnered nineteen total sponsors, including now-Senate President Kevin Grantham. They died in Senate and House committees, respectively.
"I think Republicans — the conservative Republicans, because they don't all feel this way — see [the LGBTQ] community as a threat, see this way of life as a threat to what they consider their tradition of marriage between a man and a woman," Guzman says. "They see it as a threat to the basic American family — that is, a mother and a father, a woman mother and a male father, and children that have come from these people."
Guzman acknowledges that because of the partisan split between the House and the Senate over the years and even ideological differences within the Republican party, there's no way any anti-discrimination bill legislation would get through the legislature. Instead, she sees these bills as a way for far-right conservatives to energize their supporters and have a platform to push their ideology.
"Even if they don't get their bill passed, they continue to use this publicly to continue to keep their base of contributors or party members; it's a way to keep their base involved," Guzman says, adding that if the House and Senate were both Republican-controlled, "Oh, my goodness, all kinds of things would be happening, because they would pass here and pass over there."
In a previous interview with Westword, Lundberg said that views on religion and spiritual beliefs are diverse in a pluralistic society and that these religious-exemption bills are important to protect the faithful from having their beliefs dictated to them by the state.
He is also a vocal supporter of restructuring the Colorado Civil Rights Division and its commission in the wake of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, where a Lakewood baker is arguing that his First Amendment rights should allow him to decline creating custom wedding cakes for same-sex couples because of his beliefs about marriage. The fate of the CCRD is in the hands of Senate Republicans right now, who might very well be successful in reshaping the civil-rights agency; during a Senate hearing last week, Senator Bob Gardner presented amendments that would significantly change how the agency does business. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill this week.
Below are other sitting members of the General Assembly who have signed on to religious-exemption bills in the past two years — none of which have passed yet — as well as explanations of the bills.
Representative Jon Becker - HB 18-1206, HB 17-1013
Representative Perry Buck - HB 17-1013, HB 16-1123
Representative Terri Carver - HB 17-1013
Representative Cole Wist - HB 17-1013
Representative Justin Everett - HB 18-1206, HB 17-1013, HB 16-1123
Representative Stephen Humphrey - HB 18-1206, SB 18-241, HB 17-1013, HB 16-1123
Representative Timothy Leonard - HB 18-1206, HB 17-1013
Representative Kimmi Lewis - HB 18-1206, HB 17-1013
Representative Paul Lundeen - HB 18-1206, HB 17-1013, HB 16-1123
Representative Patrick Neville - HB 18-1206, HB 17-1013, HB 16-1123
Representative Kim Ransom - HB 18-1206, HB 17-1013
Representative Lori Saine - HB 18-1206 HB 16-1123
Representative Shane Sandridge - HB 18-1206
Representative Kevin Van Winkle - HB 18-1206 HB 16-1123
Representative Yeulin Willett - HB 18-1206, HB 16-1123
Representative Dave Williams - HB 18-1206, HB 17-1013
Senator Randy Baumgardner - HB 18-1206
Senator John Cooke - SB 17-283
Senator Kevin Grantham - HB 16-1123
Senator Owen Hill - SB 17-283
Senator Chris Holbert - HB 18-1206, HB 17-1013, HB 16-1123
Senator Kevin Lambert - HB 18-1206, SB 17-283, HB 16-1123
Senator Kevin Lundberg - SB 18-241, HB 18-1206, SB 17-283, HB 17-1013, HB 16-1123
Senator Vicki Marble - HB 18-1206, HB 17-1013
Senator Tim Neville - HB 18-1206, SB 17-283, HB 17-1013, HB 16-1123
Senator Kevin Priola - HB 18-1206
Senator Jerry Sonnenberg - HB 18-1206, SB 17-283
HB 18-1206 is the Live and Let Live Act.
SB 18-241 is the Colorado Children First Act.
HB 17-1013 stated that no state action could burden a person's free exercise of religion, including a person's right to act or refuse to act against their sincerely held beliefs.
SB 17-283 attempted to carve out a religious exemption by distinguishing between "discrimination" and "right to disagree" with regard to public-accommodation laws.
HB 16-1123 would have exempted religious organizations and businesses associated with those organizations from public-accommodation laws for the purposes of solemnizing marriages or any religious ceremonies for same-sex couples.