As 200 or so Catholics held a "protect marriage" on the steps of the Colorado capitol building Friday, most realized the civil unions bill is fairly certain to become law this year.
That's why they've focused their efforts at trying to amend the bill, to add a "conscience clause" that was dropped from the language.
Last year's bill contained the words: "This article shall not be interpreted to require a child placement agency to place a child for adoption with a couple that has entered into a civil union."
Supporters of civil unions begrudgingly included the clause last year, hoping it would help get the bill through the GOP-controlled House. Now that Democrats are in control, they are less inclined to accommodate religious organizations who opposed civil unions when the bill did have the clause.
Senate sponsor Pat Steadman (D-Denver) told the Denver Post, "near as I can tell, there's no pleasing them, so I'm not even going to try."
Nobody is going to walk in the door of Catholic Charities and accuse the people there of being monsters. The organization runs 28 programs that range from sheltering the poor to helping pregnant women who don't want abortions, but don't want their children.
That's one of several ways they end up with kids who need homes.
"Our desire is to provide them with a safe and stable environment," Tracy Murphy with Catholic Charities of Denver said.
The debate begins when you examine what the Catholic church means by that.
"The Catholic church understands the best foundation for a child's life is to be in the home of a father and a mother that is going to raise them in a family environment that is a strong, healthy marriage," said Monsignor Tom Fryar, who serves as pastor for the Denver Cathedral.
By dictionary definition, the church does discriminate when it comes to adoptions-- not just against gays but also against single people.
They only let married couples adopt. Even if the laws change, the church won't.
"We cannot," Fryar said. "It goes against our faith."
If Catholic Charities were to get out of the adoption business, it wouldn't grind adoptions to a halt. Catholic Charities of Denver placed only about 40 of the 524 children adopted in the Denver area last year.
That's part of the Catholic groups' argument for the conscience clause-gay couples can go elsewhere.
"Other agencies offer other options for couples who are looking to adopt," Murphy said.
Supporters of civil unions compare the conscience clause to Jim Crow laws.
"It sounds like, 'we have our water fountains, and there are other water fountains for you,'" Sen. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Commerce City) said.
Ulibarri, who chaired the first committee hearing on Senate Bill 11 this year, takes this issue personally.
For now, the freshman senator wears an engagement ring on his finger, saying he'll wait until civil unions become law to have a ceremony with his partner Louis. The men a teenager and a 2-year-old in their family-and they wouldn't trade them for anything.
"If you're a parent you know what this feels like to come home and have those little arms hug you when you get home at night," Ulibarri said. "You can't describe that feeling."
When civil unions are legalized, he says the church's policy of only allowing married couples to adopt will be exposed as a cover to keep from placing kids with gay people.
But the church says it has a first amendment right to its beliefs. Quite simply-- they will choose those beliefs over a keeping a charity program.
It's a choice they pray they don't have to make.
"These children need us and we wish to stay in this business," Murphy said. "We wish to continue to serve them."
Whether there is enough support for adding a conscience clause to SB11 remains to be seen.
At the "protect marriage" rally, speakers urged the crowd to call Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) and urge him to veto the bill if it does not contain a conscience clause. A veto seems unlikely considering that the Governor called for civil unions in his last two State of the State addresses.
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