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Judge Gorsuch Does Not Reflect Colorado Values

Judge Gorsuch Does Not Reflect Colorado Values

A champion of "religious liberty" is not a champion of LGBT equality, writes Daniel Ramos of One Colorado.

Last week President Donald Trump announced a Colorado native, Judge Neil Gorsuch, as his nominee to replace Associate Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court. With this nomination, President Trump continues to prove he is no friend to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community.

While Judge Gorsuch has not ruled in any cases that have directly addressed LGBTQ rights, his nomination should be of great concern to every LGBTQ American and ally because of his repeated rulings in favor of religious exemptions that allow individuals and businesses to claim their religion gives them permission to pick and choose which laws to follow. Most notably, in his time on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, Gorsuch ruled that Hobby Lobby should be permitted to deny insurance coverage for contraception for their employees. In the case, he sided with the conservative Christian owners of the company who were suing the federal government over a provision of Obamacare that required large companies' insurance plans to cover birth control and other preventive services at no cost to the consumer. He wrote that government should not force anyone to be complicit in "conduct their religion teaches them to be gravely wrong," which implies he supports allowing individuals to ignore any law that they claim conflicts with their religion.

Freedom of religion is part of what makes America great and is one of our most cherished rights, which is why it is already protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. However, at their core, religious exemptions allow people to ignore laws they don't want to follow under the guise of religious freedom. In many cases, it would allow individuals and businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ people. When our courts interpret them broadly, these exemptions could be applied to child labor laws, domestic violence laws, and nondiscrimination laws.

We've already seen the negative impacts of broad interpretations of these laws. In Alabama, which has a religious exemption law, child care centers that claim they are "religiously based" are allowed to operate without licensure. One such facility was able to operate even after repeated claims and reports from parents about children being taped to chairs, locked in rooms for hours on end, and left in soiled diapers all day.

Colorado already has an unfortunate history in this arena. In 1992, Colorado voters passed Amendment 2, which prohibited cities and towns from protecting gay and lesbian individuals from discrimination. As a result, Colorado was labeled a "Hate State" and saw significant economic backlash despite the fact the law was eventually ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Two weeks ago, in response to lawmakers who attempted to pass religious exemption legislation here in Colorado, a diverse coalition of business leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement, and child welfare groups sent a clear message that religious freedom is important, but that doesn't give us the right to harm others; religious exemption laws aren't OK in Colorado, shouldn't be OK anywhere else, and don't represent who we are as Coloradans. Religious exemption proposals aren't just unpopular in Colorado, though. Since our nation has seen the negative economic impact religious exemption laws have had in states like Indiana, governors of both parties have rejected these proposals.

President Donald Trump, however, has expressed support for policies similar to those passed in Indiana. This is why it's more important than ever that we appoint Supreme Court justices who support full equality and respect, and the rule of law, and who will balance the other branches of government. A Supreme Court that would rule in support of religious exemptions would certainly open LGBTQ Americans up to discrimination and open a can of worms that could allow individuals to ignore any law that someone could contend is contrary to their religion.

Given the ages of Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy, and Stephen Breyer, there will likely be additional vacancies on the court in the next four years. Judge Gorsuch could be the definitive vote in monumental cases, and his record suggests he could roll back the tremendous progress our country has made over the last decades in recognizing the fundamental rights of LGBTQ people -- including access to health care and the freedom to marry. The justices on the Supreme Court will shape the future of our nation for generations to come and should be committed to upholding America's promise of justice and freedom for all.

Judge Gorsuch may be from Colorado, but he doesn't represent our Colorado values of having the freedom to live the life you want and making sure everyone plays by the same rules regardless of who they are. We hope our U.S. Senators, Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, will consider the values Justice Gorsuch represents when deciding whether or not to confirm him to the Supreme Court.

Daniel_ramosx100DANIEL RAMOS is the executive director of One Colorado, the state's LGBT rights organization.

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