Some Colorado Republican legislators have voted against funding the state’s Civil Rights Commission – which is at the center of an LGBT rights case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The commission ruled in 2014 that Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, violated Colorado’s antidiscrimination law in refusing to make a wedding cake for a gay couple in 2012. Phillips contended that creating a cake for an event that went against his Christian beliefs would infringe on his religious and artistic freedom. State courts have upheld the commission’s ruling, leading Phillips to appeal to the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in December and is expected to issue its ruling this summer.
Republicans on the state legislature’s Joint Budget Committee voted last week to withhold funding for the commission in next year’s budget, The Denver Post reports. “This is the commission who ruled against Masterpiece Cake, and now the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing that decision,” state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, one of those who voted against the funding, said in a Facebook post. “My argument against approving their funding today is we need to wait and see what the legislature does with the renewal of the law authorizing the commission, which is up for sunset review in this session.” The vote made for a 3-3 party-line tie, so the committee must revisit the matter.
Republican committee members said they had concerns about the commission’s role in the case, with some implying the body was anti-Christian, according to the Post. “But Republicans say that their intention was never to defund the commission indefinitely or even put its existence into question, and that they just wanted to have a part in the process and to voice their concerns about the panel,” the paper reports.
Democrats and LGBT rights activists aren’t buying that, however, and supporters of the commission rallied on the grounds of the state capitol Tuesday. “We must protect the Civil Rights Division and commission and fight back against efforts to weaken the important protections that they provide for Coloradans,” House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Democrat, told the crowd, according to the Post. “We must ensure the doors of opportunity for all of the Coloradans who will lead us to 21st-century solutions instead of taking us back to 19th-century discrimination.”
“Today we stand up … to say very clearly and to send a clear message to those who would work to defund this important commission that we will not stand for those attitudes that are contrary to our values of inclusive and welcoming here in the state of Colorado,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said at the rally. “We are on the right side today.”
The Human Rights Campaign and LGBT rights group One Colorado spoke out in a press release. “By voting to withhold funding from the very division responsible for upholding the state’s civil rights laws, Colorado’s GOP lawmakers are stoking the flames of discrimination against LGBTQ people, people of color, people of faith, people with disabilities and women,” said JoDee Winterhof, HRC senior vice president for policy and political Affairs. “This reckless action will not go unnoticed by the fair-minded majority of Colorado voters who will hold them accountable. Republican lawmakers on the committee must immediately take action to restore funding to the Colorado Civil Rights Division.”
“One Colorado is proud to be on the ground leading a broad coalition of civil rights organizations, business and faith leaders, and elected officials here in our state to stand up for the civil rights of Coloradans from all walks of life,” said Daniel Ramos, executive director of One Colorado. “All Coloradans have the right to be treated fairly and equally, including LGBTQ Coloradans, and the CCRD reaffirms this fundamentally American idea. A vote to ensure this office continues is a vote to support protecting our fellow Coloradans’ civil rights.”
But Republicans insisted the commission isn’t in danger. “It seemed very well orchestrated that they were able to come out and scream about the defunding of the department when that in fact is wholly untrue,” Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Republican, told the Post. “This happens all the time … where more questions want to be asked about a particular department before the funding is passed.”