DENVER — The growing conflict between religious groups and LGBT rights advocates over punishments in discrimination cases played out Monday in Colorado, with a Democrat-led committee rejecting Republican proposals aimed at protecting individuals and organizations from complaints.
But what some conservatives view as trying to preserve religious freedom, Democrats and LGBT rights advocates see as potentially sanctioning discrimination.
One proposal would have prohibited penalties in discrimination cases if the punishment – such as an order to serve same-sex couples – violated the beliefs of the accused. Another measure, written broadly, barred government officials from constraining the exercise of religion.
Jon Monteith, spokesman for the gay rights group One Colorado, said that while religious rights are important, “that doesn’t allow people to pick and choose the laws they want to follow.”
The bills heard Monday afternoon come as two Colorado bakers face discrimination complaints, but from two different perspectives.
One suburban Denver baker is embroiled in a legal fight over a judge’s order that he serve gay couples after he refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The baker, Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, has argued that providing that service would violate his Christian beliefs.
In another case, a Colorado man filed complaints against three bakeries that refused to make a Bible-themed cake with religious scripture.
One of the bakers, Marjorie Silva, owner of Denver’s Azucar Bakery, said she offered to make the cake, but refused to write the messages the man wanted because they were hateful toward gays. Those cases are being reviewed by Colorado’s Civil Rights Division.
The man who filed the complaints against the three bakers, Bill Jack, of Castle Rock, said in written testimony read to lawmakers that Colorado’s current anti-discrimination law “abridges the right of free speech and artistic expression of all bakers, florists, photographers and other business owners who are compelled to participate in activities that their creed instructs them violates their sincerely held beliefs and consciences.”
Jack said in his prepared remarks that the bakers he filed complaints against should have the right to follow their conscience and deny him service, just as Phillips should have the right to adhere to his beliefs.
But allowing that, opponents of the bills said, could open the door to widespread discrimination.
Similar clashes have arisen in other states. A Washington state florist, for example, is contesting a judge’s ruling against her for refusing to create floral arrangements for a gay wedding. In New Mexico, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that a photographer who refused to take pictures of a gay couple’s commitment ceremony violated discrimination law.
As such conflicts continue to materialize, lawmakers around the country have sought to strengthen religious protections.