As the owner of a catering company, I produce all sorts of events, including weddings, which is why we think of ourselves as being in the “love business.”
I’m glad to say that business won’t take a hit because a bill that would have legalized discrimination against LGBT persons in Colorado is dead — at least for now.
For the third consecutive year, politicians here introduced a bill (HB 1013) in the state Legislature that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers if they feel that serving them somehow violates their personal religious beliefs. Fortunately, that misguided proposal was killed in committee Jan. 25.
But the persistence shown by some Colorado lawmakers makes it seem like they are so determined to legalize discrimination that they don’t mind jeopardizing the state’s share of the wedding industry which, nationally, generates an estimated $51 billion and employs 800,000 people.
By some estimates, same-sex weddings might generate $51 million in revenue for Colorado alone. That business, however, will be in danger if Colorado sends the message that it is not open for business to everyone.
I support marriage equality and LGBT civil rights. When a law affects my LGBT friends, clients and employees, it is hurtful to people I care about. But I oppose this measure regardless of that belief. Religious exemption laws are bad for business — and contrary to Colorado values — if they promote discrimination.
Our economy is thriving precisely because we have established an inclusive, diversified and forward-thinking environment for business. The jobs my business creates, and the families we support, depend on our continued growth. But that growth would be stifled if we chose discrimination over business opportunity.
Most business owners in Colorado feel the way I do. In fact, Small Business Majority’s scientific polling found almost two-thirds of Colorado’s small businesses said business owners shouldn’t be allowed to deny goods or services to LGBT individuals based on the owner’s religious beliefs. What’s more, the results showed small business owners in Colorado oppose any overly broad religious exemptions that could allow for anti-LGBT discrimination. Additionally, most small employers expressed trepidation about the impact that laws like HB 1013 would have on Colorado’s business climate.
There is little doubt that HB 1013 would have damaged Colorado’s reputation and driven away customers that small businesses like mine depend on. If this measure had become law, it would have put Colorado in some very bad company with North Carolina and Indiana, which lost more than $450 million combined thanks to similar religious exemption measures.
The bottom line is that small businesses in Colorado can’t expect to compete with other states if we are not viewed as being open for business to all. Lawmakers here wisely rejected similar legislation in previous years, and I’m glad they followed suit this time around.
Let’s hope we never see a bill like this again.
Jeremy Bronson is the owner of Occasions Catering in Denver.