UPDATE: 'Clarifying discrimination' bill killed on Senate Floor

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UPDATE: The state Senate has officially voted down SB-283, which would have allowed businesses to refuse service to someone based on any belief — religious or otherwise. Three Republicans joined all Senate Democrats to defeat the bill.

Daniel Ramos, executive director of One Colorado, the state's leading LGBTQ rights organization, said: "We are thankful that all the Senate Democrats and Senators Tate, Coram, and Martinez Humenik saw this bill for what it was, a thinly-veiled attempt to give businesses permission to ignore Colorado's non-discrimination laws."

—ORIGINAL POST 1:52 P.M. THURS., APRIL 13, 2017—

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Last week, the Colorado Senate Committee of State, Veterans, & Military Affairs passed SB-1188, a bill which adds physical or mental disability and sexual orientation to the categories described in our state’s existing harassment statue — a victory for those who belong to either minority group.

Now, that same committee has considered and passed another bill that affects LGBTQ citizens, though this one sends a different message.

SB-283, "Clarify Discrimination And Right To Disagree," while not technically a religious exemption bill, would offer the same protections. Namely, that if a business or business owner disagrees with someone’s message/lifestyle/choices/beliefs, they can deny service to that customer.

A common example: a Christian baker is asked to bake a cake for a gay wedding. Should they be allowed to deny that service because they do not agree with marriage equality? According to SB-283, the answer is yes.

The difference between this and a standard religious exemption bill is that SB-283 widens that scope. Rather than just citing religious beliefs, it actually encompasses any kind of disagreement, which is just ambiguous enough to allow for multiple avenues of discrimination.

The bill specifies that it is not a discriminatory practice for a private business to decline to contract to provide goods or services:

• That convey a message with which the business chooses not to associate itself or with which the business owner disagrees; or

• For an event that conveys a message with which the business chooses not to associate itself or with which the business owner disagrees.

While it is unlikely the bill will make it out of the Senate alive, it is still important to consider what bills like this, and their continued introduction, mean for our community.

As we have previously reported, the Small Business Majority, a national organization with an interest in the economy of small businesses, conducted a poll of small business owners in Colorado. The majority (65 percent of 400 polled) do not think businesses should have the right to deny services to LGBTQ customers, no matter their religious beliefs.

It stands to reason, then, that a bill which narrows the definition of discrimination even further would face similar opposition from the small business community.

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