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Making difficult decisions on complex issues

We’re now grappling with bills that stir much emotion for my constituents and that present a complex challenge for me in seeking to represent my district, which clearly doesn’t speak with one voice on these issues.

The Senate heard the debate on whether to give in-state tuition to undocumented students who’ve attended at least three years of Colorado high school immediately before entering college. It’s true that, because of federal mandates, Colorado has already invested in the pre-college education of these students.

The fact remains, though, that even after graduating from college, these students are here illegally and can’t legally get a job here or elsewhere in the U.S. For this reason, I voted against the bill. The federal government leaves the states, and these students, adrift by failing to meaningfully tackle illegal immigration in this country.

Close on the heels of that bill are several involving religious issues and the roles of government and religion in each other’s business. They raise serious questions of the meaning of religious liberty and separation of church and state in today’s America.

Past examples of these kinds of questions include whether parents should be allowed vouchers to help pay for their children’s education in private religious schools and whether prayer should be allowed in public classrooms. Courts and legislatures have provided answers, but not to everyone’s satisfaction. In the Colorado Senate, a few upcoming bills highlight the continued tension in addressing church and state.

A civil unions bill returns, essentially the same as last year’s. With much constituent opinion voiced to me, ranging from adamant opposition to vigorous support, last year I voted for the bill for a couple of different reasons.

There’s a gap in current Colorado law failing to establish child support obligations and custody rights for same sex couples who raise a family. This is a significant problem if and when those couples split up. The state has an interest in making sure that the financial obligation of raising children is secure and enforceable and the importance of clear law regarding visitation and custody rights touches every affected child, as well as each parent.

A second reason I continue to support a civil unions bill is that I see civil unions as a governmental status, not a religious one. Marriage is a sacrament and religious blessing, bestowed upon a couple by a church or other faith community. Some states allow same sex marriages; Colorado’s constitution does not.

The bill facing Colorado legislators is about civil unions and it specifically provides that no faith tradition shall be compelled to treat a civil union as a marriage. While some will disagree, the line’s clearly drawn between the civil and religious spheres in this bill. For me, this is also a matter of an individual’s rights and liberties.

Two other Colorado bills will be debated soon, raising issues of religious liberty similar to whether the government can compel a faith-based institution, or its insurer, to provide contraceptive coverage in conflict with that institution’s ethical directives. These bills affect faith-based employers, like Catholic hospitals and universities, and don’t sufficiently respect the line drawn between the civil and religious spheres. I won’t be supporting them.

These are tough questions in a very politically diverse district, but these are the reasons for my votes.

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