As the Colorado Independent’s John Herrick reports, yesterday Republicans on the Colorado General Assembly’s powerful Joint Budget Committee took a swipe at the Colorado Civil Rights Commission–the state agency charged with defending Coloradans of all stripes from discrimination in housing, public accommodation, and the workplace:
Republican state lawmakers are effectively shutting down a state agency that is at the center of a U.S. Supreme Court case involving the rights of a gay couple who were refused service by a Christian baker.
The Joint Budget Committee held up funding for Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission following a split, party-line vote this afternoon. The decision would cut off state funding for the regulatory agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws on July 1. This drew protests from Democrats and the LGBTQ community.
The agency is fighting a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that pits religious liberties against anti-discrimination protections. It involves the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple because he said it conflicted with his First Amendment right of artistic, religious and free speech expression…
Because the Civil Rights Commission is up for “sunset review” reauthorization of its funding this year, notoriously anti-LGBT Sen. Kevin Lundberg of the JBC is stalling the budget appropriation citing the possibility that the division will be allowed to “sunset.”
Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, who voted against the budget request, wants to wait for the review to play out. The Civil Rights Division, which includes the commission, is requesting $2.1 million for next year.
“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,” Lundberg said on Facebook on Thursday.
Because of the commission’s role in the discrimination case currently being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court of Lakewood cake-baker Jack Phillips, this action by Republican members of the JBC could quickly become a national flashpoint in the post-Obergefell debate over LGBT rights in America. The religious right since that decision has been on a quest to carve out an exemption in anti-discrimination laws for “religious objections.” That’s why Sen. Lundberg drew scorn for his praise of Kentucky clerk Kim Davis after she was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
And that’s what is critical to understand. This is no accident. Colorado Senate Republicans appointed Kim Davis-loving Kevin Lundberg to the Joint Budget Committee where everyone knew he would have this power to put the Civil Rights Commission in jeopardy. It will be the choice of the entire Senate majority to block reauthorization of the Civil Rights Commission in the middle of a U.S. Supreme Court case if they do so, but yesterday’s vote on the JBC makes that all the more likely.
Politically, Republicans are audaciously playing with fire here. The situation is eerily similar to the fight in 2012 in the state legislature over civil unions legislation. Republicans pulled out all the stops to oppose the civil unions bill that year, leading to a widely-publicized spectacle at the session’s end in which Republicans leaders shut down the House to prevent a vote.
And then they lost their asses that November.
With a wave election headed Republicans’ way this year that could dwarf 2012, sweeping the Colorado Senate GOP’s single-seat majority from power and growing Democratic control of the Colorado House even more than the status quo, this is either a Hail Mary to invigorate the religious right or the actions of a party that simply doesn’t care about winning anymore. Or maybe both.
Either way, this is a story that needs a lot of attention–and right now.