Sex, sin, vengeance and Senate Bills 179 and 88

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

An attorney — and a Republican for 30-something years — predicted after the November election that the GOP would become extinct if it couldn’t tame its social crusaders. He was hoping for a return to the “big tent” filled with Republicans who don’t shoot “Rhinos” or wear elephant-size righteousness like merit badges.

He probably joined the Democratic Party this week.

The party’s image took a hard-right religious turn this week when Republican senators Dave Schultheis, of Colorado Springs, and Scott Renfroe, of Greeley, offered up pious sermons against sexual sins.

Schultheis, who claims to be pro-life, voted against a bill that could help protect unborn babies from contracting the HIV virus — and ultimately save lives. Why? The senator said it’s not the role of government — and that children infected with HIV will be guilty reminders to mothers of their sexual “promiscuity.”

Senate Bill 179, sponsored by Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, would require pregnant women to be tested for HIV in order to take measures to treat and protect their unborn children. The women would have the right to refuse the test.

Schultheis had voted in favor of the bill, but then — after insomnia and soul-searching — changed his mind before the third reading and final vote. He went to the well to confess his sense of morality — and his objections to SB 179.

Schultheis’ price-for-sex confession

“You know, this was a difficult bill for me. I voted ‘yes’ in committee on it because of discussions surrounding the fact that — well, let me just basically say this. It basically modifies the communicable disease laws, and it requires the health care providers to test pregnant women for HIV unless they opt out. And, basically, that’s the main part of this bill. I voted ‘yes’ on it.

“I was a little bit troubled with my vote and was just wondering what was bothering me. I woke up the next morning — Thursday morning — at 5 a.m., and I wrestled with this bill for an hour — from 5 to 6.

“I’m trying to think through what the role of government is here. And I am not convinced that part of the role of government should be to protect individuals from the negative consequences of their actions.

“Sexual promiscuity, we know, causes a lot of problems in our state — one of which, obviously, is the contraction of HIV. And we have other programs that deal with the negative consequences — we put up part of our high schools where we allow students maybe 13 years old who put their child in a small daycare center there.

“We do things continually to remove the negative consequences that take place from poor behavior and unacceptable behavior, quite frankly, and I don’t think that’s the role of this body.

“As a result of that, I finally came to the conclusion I would have to be a ‘no’ vote on this because this stems from sexual promiscuity, for the most part. And I just can’t vote ‘yes’ on this bill. And I wanted to explain to this body why I was going to be a ‘no’ vote on this,” Schultheis concluded.

Tochtrop, a nurse, was stunned.

“HIV does not just come from sexual promiscuity. It comes from many things — contaminated blood for one.

“What this bill will do — and why it is so important — is to test the woman when she’s pregnant. If she is HIV positive, treatment is started immediately to protect the baby — this is an unborn baby. That is what this is about.

“I just think it’s very important that we look at ways that we can protect an unborn baby from the chances of having this virus,” declared Tochtrop.

Schultheis cast the only vote against SB 179, which passed 32-1 and will be heard in the House next week. One of the bill’s co-sponsors is House Minority Leader Josh Penry, of Grand Junction.

When several Republicans were asked about the Colorado Springs lawmaker’s comments, the most common reaction was a deep sigh and a request not be named. His fellow Republicans deemed Schultheis’ comments “awful” and “reprehensible” — but also “courageous.”

Here’s a sampling of comments by members of the GOP who preferred to remain anonymous:

• “That kind of bullheadedness gets us in trouble. We’ve had problems with this in the past. Doug Bruce is an example. We need to communicate without being inflammatory and ridiculous.”

• “Schultheis must have overanalyzed the bill. In this case, the bill actually helps to give human-life status to the unborn. It’s a very, very pro-life opportunity.”

• “He’s extreme — and certainly doesn’t represent all of us. I also wonder what’s being slipped into his coffee.”

Renfroe’s sermon in the well

The Schultheis scene had occurred only two days after Renfroe had preached against Senate Bill 88, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver. If it passes, SB 88 would extend state employee health benefits to same-sex partners of state employees.

Renfroe said he was voting against the bill because it would sanction sin and be an abomination to God.

“The Lord God said it is not good for man to be alone — and so he made a helper suitable for him — and that was woman,” said Renfroe, quoting a Bible verse from Genesis. “God blessed them and said be fruitful and multiply.

“Leviticus 18:22 says, ‘You shall not lie with a man as one lies with a female, it is an abomination.’

“Leviticus 20:13 says, ‘If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act and they shall surely be put to death. Their blood guiltiness is upon them.’

“I’m not saying (homosexuality) is the only sin that is out there. Obviously, we have sin. We have murder. We have all sorts of sin. We have adultery. And we don’t make laws making those legal. And we would never think to make murder legal.

“But what I’m saying that for is that all sin is equal. That sin there is as equal to any other sin that’s in the Bible — to having wandering eyes, to coveting your neighbor’s things. Whatever you do, that sin is equal, and it can be forgiven because of that….

“When we create laws against what Biblically we are supposed to stand for, I think we are allowing to go forward a sin that should not be treated by government as something that is legal. We are taking sins and making them legally okay.

“And that is wrong. That is an abomination according to the Scripture.”

Veiga, who is openly gay, was outraged.

“You say, up here at this microphone, that God created us in a certain structure. I will stand here today and tell you that God also created me,” said Veiga. “And the last time I checked, I am who I am.”

Neil G. Giuliano, president of The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation also weighed in, saying, “”It is unacceptable for public officials to promote this kind of intolerance and, in so doing, create a hostile climate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in their community.

“GLAAD is calling on the media to hold elected officials like Senator Renfroe accountable for using their public offices to advance this kind of hatred and exclusion. Senator Renfroe’s ugly, divisive assertions highlight the need for media to examine how the anti-gay attitudes of elected officials impact their diverse constituencies.”

Rev. Richard Craft, interim pastor at Family of Christ Presbyterian Church of Greeley, responded to Renfroe’s remarks in a statement published by the Colorado Independent, a left-leaning, Web-based news source.

“As a Christian, I am profoundly saddened by the hate speech uttered by Sen. Renfroe in the name of God,” Craft wrote.

“Such speech is not simply an expression of neutral opinion. It emboldens attitudes of xclusion and even violence against our neighbors, whom we are called upon to love. And it feeds the growing idea that Christianity is a religion of hate.”

Some conservative Republicans agreed with the premise of Renfroe’s vote against SB 88, but said they would not have echoed his comments.

“Remarks like that don’t help with conservative causes,” said a Republican political consultant, who, like the members of the GOP who remarked on Schultheis’ comments, asked not to be named. “You might agree with his position, but you find a tactically sound way to communicate your views”

In response, ProgressNow Colorado launched an e-mail campaign to “Tell Scott Renfroe what you think“ and launched a Facebook page called “Reject Renfroe.” It drew about 200 members on its first day. The group also published his e-mail address.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com