A state Senate committee packed with a conservative Republican-majority voted unanimously on Wednesday to advance a bill that would stiffen penalties for those who harass Coloradans for being gay or disabled.
Gay rights supporters reacted with a jolt after the vote. They had braced for yet another defeat in the infamously hardline State Affairs “kill” Committee.
“In an unexpected turn of events, the bill I’m sponsoring with Sen. Don Coram and Rep. Mike Foote to add LGBT and disabled folks to the law protecting people from harassment passed unanimously out of the Senate ‘kill’ committee today!” Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Democrat from Commerce City and a member of the LGBT legislative caucus, wrote at his Facebook page.
“Maybe you should run [more] bills with me!” wrote Coram in response. “Proud to stand with you my friend.”
Coram is a Durango Republican and former member of the state House widely admired at the Capitol for his sure-shot ethical sense and generous affability.
For years, conservatives in Colorado, as elsewhere, have opposed laws that specifically grant gay people civil rights protections, partly because such laws effectively place sexual preference in the same class as race, marking it out in an official way as a biological trait hardwired to a person’s identity.
In Colorado, harassment is a class 1 misdemeanor if it targets someone based on actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, or national origin. House Bill 1188 would include sexual orientation and physical or mental disability with those categories.
“In the wake of [the election of Donald Trump], there has been a disturbing rise in hate crimes and violence targeting immigrants, LGBTQ community members, Muslims, and others across the country,” said Daniel Ramos, executive director of gay-rights group One Colorado, in a statement. “It’s a crucial time to make sure that the most vulnerable are protected in our state.
“We want to thank… State Senators Steve Fenberg, Lois Court, Owen Hill, Jerry Sonnenberg, and Vicki Marble for their votes today in support of LGBTQ Coloradans, our families, and people with disabilities.”