Civil union bill could force churches to conduct same-sex ceremonies

by Jack Minor —


The civil union bill being debated in the Colorado state legislature discriminates against Christians and others and could open the door to churches being forced to allow same-sex ceremonies to be performed in their facilities.


“It’s important for all Colorado citizens to notice that this bill fails to protect religious freedom which is a constitutionally protected right that is one of our first liberties,” Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Kellie Fiedorek said.


Fiedorek recently testified before the Colorado state Senate Judiciary Committee against Senate bill 13-011 that would legalize civil unions between members of the opposite sex. The state currently has a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and woman.


However, Governor John Hickenlooper and “gay” activists have pushed for a civil union law to get around the marriage definition in the state constitution. Supporters of the bill claim it simply provides legal protections for same-sex couples to enter into contractual arrangements and will not infringe on the religious rights of anyone in the state. They point to a section in the bill stating that no priest, minister rabbi or other official of a religious institution is required to certify a civil union in violation of their right to free exercise of religion.


However, Fiedorek says the religious exemption is so narrowly tailored it leaves vast numbers of Coloradoans with no protection for their religious rights.


“This bill as currently drafted fails to protect the religious rights of conscience for Christians who are not official ministers of their church. Religious liberty is not confined to the four walls of the church but extends to everybody.”


Another concern is the bill affords no protections for other business owners such as wedding-venue owners, clerks and recorders, bed-and-breakfast establishments, bakeries, photographers, caterers, deejays and others who may be forced to violate their conscience and actively participate in same-sex ceremonies.


Fiedorek mentioned the case of Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Bake Shop in Lakewood, who is currently facing discrimination charges after he refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple even though the civil union bill has not become law yet.


The Gazette previously reported on Phillip’s case and he said he was not discriminating against them based on their sexual orientation; he was doing it based on the message it would convey.


“I told them I have no problem making a birthday cake or any other cake for a ‘gay’ person. However, when it comes to a wedding cake I will refuse to make it because of the message it contains,” Phillips said. “As a Christian I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.”


“It’s important that all residents be able to live according to the dictates of their conscience,” she lamented. “His refusal was based solely on his religious beliefs as to what constitutes marriage and he is now being persecuted for those beliefs.”


Hickenlooper and Democratic lawmakers attempted to pass the bill in the last legislative session, but were unsuccessful when Republican lawmakers essentially ran out the clock on the issue. This year, Democrats control both the state house and senate chambers so the bill is expected to pass handily.


Fiedorek noted that the bill compels a person to engage in speech over something they disagree with.


“You can’t compel speech. For example it would be unfair to ask an African-American photographer to shoot a wedding where the wedding party war white robes of the KKK. He has the right to not use his artistic abilities as a photographer in a way that compromises his deeply held beliefs. The same standard applies to a person who believes marriage is between a man and woman.”


Fiedorek said cases such as these highlight the need to ensure that everyone has protection for their religious liberties, not just members of the clergy.


“One point that is important to recognize is that the religious protections in the bill are not only inadequate and fail to protect the people of Colorado, but the extreme narrowness of those protections is prejudiced towards those who have deeply held religious beliefs about marriage.”


State Sen. Kevin Lundberg, one of the two  Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee who voted against the bill said this year’s bill is even more extreme than the one proposed last year by Democrats.


“We just hurled the state of Colorado over a moral cliff. This is a major step toward seriously eroding the practice and the concept of marriage in Colorado and the family,” Lundberg said. “This bill is even more striking than last year in that they refused an amendment I put up that would exempt private child placement agencies from being impacted by this law. The Democrats refused saying anyone who is going to place a child in foster care or adoption situations in Colorado cannot refuse a same-sex couple because of moral or religious convictions. They must comply with this force of law.”


Lundberg told Democratic lawmakers it was hypocritical for them to refuse religious exemptions when their own bill has discrimination written into it.


“When I was calling for the exemption for child placement organizations, Sen. Pat Steadman who sponsored the bill said no to the amendment because that would be allowing discrimination to occur and he was not going to do that,” Lundberg said.  “I pointed out to him the bill itself has discrimination written into it by saying that two sisters or close relatives can’t be a part of a civil union. However it’s quite clear that they’re simply saying it’s my way or the highway in that respect.”


Lundberg takes issue with those who claim the civil union bill is a reasonable attempt at compromise because it does not permit “gay” marriage.


“They insist that this is legislation does not equal marriage because the Colorado constitution says marriage is between one man and one woman, but the reality is this bill is a mirror image of marriage in Colorado law,” he explained. “It’s a very comprehensive piece of legislation that affects every area of Colorado law that makes a civil union as identical to marriage as possible within existing Colorado statutes.”


Although the bill exempts members of the clergy from having to perform same-sex ceremonies, there is a loophole in the exemption that could prove problematic. The bill does not specifically prevent the government from penalizing, withholding benefits from or refusing to contract with clergy, religious organizations or institutions that adhere to deeply held religious beliefs about sexual unions.


This loophole could place clergy members in a position where although they could refuse to perform same-sex ceremonies, they could not prevent “gay” couples from using their facilities for ceremonies conducted by someone else.


Matt Barber with Liberty Counsel noted that after Hawaii passed a civil union bill that contained a religious exemption with language similar to Colorado’s bill, complaints were then brought against churches to the Hawaiian Human Rights Commission over their refusal to allow civil-union ceremonies.


Barber said the property loophole is an issue that legislators need to address and they should pass legislation clarifying the religious exemption applies to religious property as well.


When asked if churches in Colorado could be forced to permit same-sex couples to use their facilities based on the language in our civil union law, Barber said, “Absolutely. That’s the nature of the homosexual activist lobby, they like to use the legal system to force their radical agenda on the rest of us.”


“The issue is whether the anti-discrimination laws would be triggered if a state were to refuse to rent a facility to a same-sex couple. The laws provide an exemption for ministers to refuse to perform the ceremonies, but there is no property exemption.”


“The domestic partner law, as worded, puts churches in the crosshairs if they refuse to rent to a same sex couple. Domestic partnerships are basically marriages in everything but name and for many religious institutions it violates their deeply held beliefs,” Barber said. “Churches and other religious facilities should have a First Amendment right to use their property and open it up for whomever they see fit when we are talking about behaviors such as homosexuality which is contrary to the Bible.”


Barber said the homosexual lobby is attempting to use situations like this in order to get a foot in the door and ultimately require churches to perform same-sex ceremonies. “This isn’t about same-sex couples having the right to marry. It is about denigrating marriage and forcing the church to renounce its biblical position on sexual behavior under penalty of law.”



Lundberg also noted that supporters are being dishonest by claiming that civil union bills are a way to find compromise and common ground among people who have a disagreement over the issue.


“They will never be satisfied with a civil union. What they want is the right to the word marriage. During the last session I asked Steadman if this bill would satisfy him. He said ‘No, if I can get same-sex marriage passed, I will go for that.’ “

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3 Responses to Civil union bill could force churches to conduct same-sex ceremonies

  1. David Henderson says:

    This article claims that civil unions are an attempt to bypass the 2006 state constitutional amendment. But that’s just not so. When different states were considering bans on same-sex marriage, some of them also banned civil unions, while others did not. If Sen. Lundberg wanted to ban civil unions as well as marriage, then he should have included them in the ballot measure that he wrote in 2006.

    It is clear that there is a difference in the voters’ preferences for those two options. In 2006, Arizona voters were asked if they wanted to ban marriage and civil unions for same-sex couples. 48% said yes and 52% said no. In 2008, they were asked again if they wanted to ban marriage and not ban civil unions. That time, 56% said yes and 44% said no.

    Colorado’s ban of only marriage passed in 2006 by a vote of 55% to 45%. If the question had been whether or not to ban both marriage and civil unions, it very well may have failed to pass.

    As for requiring churches to marry (or civilly unite) anyone they don’t want to, they are already absolutely protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. If a Presbyterian and a Methodist go to a Catholic church and ask the priest to marry them, he can say no because they’re not Catholic, and the couple has absolutely no legal recourse against the priest or the church.

    Even if two Catholics want to marry in that church, the priest can still say no because they are both divorced (or for whatever reason he wishes). Again, absolutely no legal recourse can be taken against him or the church.

    Nothing in state law can change the First Amendment.

  2. MrSpock says:

    The article never states that a Catholic can be forced to marry a person from another denomination. The issue is whether churches can be forced to open their facilities to same-sex couples on the basis of public accomodation.

    If a same-sex couple brings charges against a church, even if courts eventually side with the church, the cost of litigation could be unbearably high for these non-profit churches who survive solely on the offerings of the congregation.

    I have actually read the bill and nowhere does it say that churches are exempt from having to rent their facilities out. While I agree it is a First Amendment issue, there is a movement to claim when a church opens their facilities to the public they lose that protection.

    It is also interesting how Obama has been saying Americans only have the right to freedom of worship, not freedom of religion. That is an important distinction, worship means what goes on in the church walls, religion is a part of your life. That is why people like Jack Philipps should also be protected based on the First Amendment. The issue is the same for him as it is for churches.

  3. David Henderson says:

    Do you believe that a hypothetical Methodist-Presbyterian couple could currently sue a Catholic church for denying them access to the church facilities to be married? If they could, then with or without civil unions, a hypothetical same-sex couple could still sue them for the same reason. But if they could not, then neither could that same-sex couple sue. Either way, passing civil unions would result in no change to the ability of the church to be sued.

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