“If I have a heart attack where do I go without a doctor saying ‘sorry, I don’t treat people like you’?”
Regina Kalacova is 62 years old. You wouldn’t know it from the blue streaks in her hair or the sparkles that jump from her tie-dyed shirt. But she is. And being an older transgender woman, she’s concerned a push from the religious right could jeopardize her health.
It’s not just health, but employment, housing, adoption, foster care, and equal treatment at establishments like bars and restaurants that brought dozens of people to the state capital Tuesday to debate legislation that many say would have significantly rolled back LGBTQ rights in Colorado.
Christians, Rabbis, and Sikhs sat side-by-side, flanked by large marble columns inside the historic building, to testify against the measure they called discriminatory. Other organizations who came out against the measure included the Chamber of Commerce, Planned Parenthood, The Colorado Bar Association, The Human Rights Campaign, and many more.
Introduced in the state house by Stephen Humphrey, (R-CO) the legislation has been named the Live and Let Live bill. It’s a religious freedom measure, or as Humphrey said, “the intent is tolerance is a two-way street.” He and his supporters don’t think people should be forced to go against their “sincerely-held religious beliefs.”
That means, if the bill had passed, anyone could have denied services to a member of the LGBTQ community if they were morally opposed to helping queer folks. LGBTQ people could have been fired or not hired for no reason other than gender. They could have been denied the right to adopt or provide foster care. Restaurants could have refused to serve them. People would be banned from bathrooms that represent their gender. At the extreme, health care professionals could have turned injured community members away.
It did not make it out of the House Judiciary Committee, with lawmakers voting straight down party lines–republicans supporting it and democrats voting against it. But, even with defeat, LGBTQ activists warn this Colorado bill is a first step in a campaign to pass similar legislation nationwide.
The Judiciary Committee is largely made up of minorities–minorities who remember when these same religious arguments were used against others. “Religion was used to rid America of Indigenous peoples,” said Representative Joe Salazar, (D-CO). He said he remembers signs in establishments banning “Mexicans and dogs” from entering.
Jovan Melton, an African American democrat who represents Aurora, said he recalls shops posting signs for “whites-only pies,” making reference to a lawsuit currently before the Supreme Court involving a gay couple in Colorado who was denied a wedding cake because of their sexuality. Melton asked “what’s the difference between the whites-only pie then and the straight cake of today?”
Charlie Craig and David Mullins are at the center of that lawsuit. Craig testified, “it doesn’t matter if it’s just a cake. To be turned away from anyone is humiliating.” He told lawmakers “this measure isn’t freedom of religion, but rather freedom from LGBT people.”
Leslie Herod, (D-CO) is the first out LGBTQ African American elected to Colorado’s State House. She reminded members that the KKK promotes itself as a protestant organization. Furthermore, she said she doesn’t want to see Colorado go back to being called “the hate state,” like it was when the anti-gay Amendment 2 passed in 1992. It was later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Amendment 2 made it illegal for cities like Boulder and Denver to provide legal protections for members of the LGB community.
When asked how the Live and Let Live measure differed from Amendment 2, the bill’s sponsor didn’t immediately recall Amendment 2 and deferred questions to attorney Matt Sharp. Sharp is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian organization that’s been deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Religion,” Sharp said, “carries outside the four walls of churches, and the government is coming after them.” Dr. Jenna Ellis, an assistant professor of law at Colorado Christian College, went so far as to argue same-gender marriage is not legal in the U.S. because it was not under the purview of the Supreme Court to rule on marriage. She testified that the ruling is illegal and state laws still prevail. “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs,” is how attorney John McHugh, president of Colorado’s LGBTQ Bar Association, describes that line of thinking.
Perhaps the biggest legal heavy hitter to testify was Jean Dubofsky. She was the first woman to become a Colorado Supreme Court Justice, and she successfully argued the lawsuit that led to the Supreme Court overturning Amendment 2 in Colorado. She said this proposal is similar in its breadth to Amendment 2 and is just as illegal. “Moral conviction, as defined [in this legislation], applies to anyone who doesn’t like LGBT people,” she said.
Director of Public Affairs for Colorado’s Chamber of Commerce Dorothy Ostrogorski reminded the committee that Colorado lost between 40-120 million dollars from boycotts led by Barbra Streisand in the 90s over Amendment 2. She said the current legislation would threaten incoming businesses or companies looking to expand here. “It sends the message ‘we don’t want you, we don’t need you,’… Colorado respects freedom of religion and Colorado respects LGBTQ people,” she said.
Ostrogorski warned similar legislation in Indiana and North Carolina led to large economic boycotts. Boycotts so big, Indiana had to back-peddle or risk losing multi-million dollar accounts.
Advocates for private Christian adoption agencies testified pro-LGBTQ laws that went into effect in October of 2017 may result in shutting down agencies who refuse to send children to same-gender or transgender homes. “For us it’s a ministry, not a business,” said Beth Woods, executive director of Hope’s Promise, a Christian adoption agency that believes children are best served in homes with one male and one female parent. She said biological mothers who want their children raised in Christian homes seek them out and they should have that right.
When questioned, other private adoption advocates said there have been no agencies forced to shut down because of the new laws protecting the LGBTQ community against discrimination. But they said that may change with more stringent enforcement of the laws.
Some of the most dramatic testimony came from members of the clergy. Dr. Paula Williams is no longer allowed inside many of the mega-churches she used to speak in. She said when she came out as transgender it took only one week for her to lose all of her high-ranking positions within large churches and religious organizations.
Williams pointed to statistics coming out of the Pew Research Center that show a shift in theological thinking. More evangelicals, she said, are letting go of scripture interpretations that see homosexuality as a sin. She said many of these scriptures were let go a long time ago, and if all scriptural beliefs were consistent, people who believe homosexuality is a sin would also believe “in slavery, in banning inter-racial marriage, and that the earth does not revolve around the sun.”
Dilpreet Jammu is the chair of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado. He is also the founder of Colorado Sikhs. He testified that his religion requires him to be of service to everyone–regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation. This proposed bill, he said, is as dangerous now as similar legislation in the 60s. “In 1965 [some people] found the Civil Rights Act to be in opposition of their sincerely-held religious beliefs,” he said.
The question of what constitutes “sincerely -eld religious beliefs” and how a court is expected to define that was raised several times, but not definitively answered.
Dr. Evette Lutman is the Rabbi at B’nai Havurah in Denver. She testified that the bill’s name, To Live and Let Live, “seems like a hole so big you could drive a truck through it.”
Salazar, who is running for Attorney General in Colorado, agreed the title was misleading, making a discriminatory bill sound welcoming instead.
But, he said he was certain the measure would not make it past his committee “This bill will pass over my dead body … I can’t believe we’re in 2018 and we still have to deal with this crap. And you can quote me that I said crap!”