A new version of a proposed Colorado civil unions bill has dropped provisions that protect agencies from being forced to place children with same-sex and unmarried opposite-sex couples – a change that could put at risk Catholic Charities' adoption and foster care services in the state.

Jennifer Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, told CNA Jan. 16 that there have been "significant" changes to the bill from last year's version, which failed to pass.

If the legislation passes this year, civil unions for two people of any sex would be legally equivalent to marriage under state law. The 2012 Colorado Senate bill proposing to create the unions had stated that the bill "shall not be interpreted to require a child placement agency to place a child for adoption" with a couple in a civil union.

That language, however, is absent from the 2013 bill, S.B. 11.

Kraska said this change means the legislation has the potential for "serious conflict with religious liberty" regarding religious institutions involved in charitable services as well as adoption and foster care.

Mark Rohlena, President and CEO of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, said if the bill passes it could threaten the religious liberty of agencies like his that decline to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples.

"We feel it would be a very sad commentary if Colorado forced religious institutions or those who believe in a different framework to do something against their conscience," he told CNA Jan. 16.

If Colorado law forces the Colorado Springs-based agency to violate Catholic teaching, he said, "we probably would cease the operation of our adoption programs."

"That risk is always there," he said. "I think that we would try to explore every avenue available to us to provide this vital service to the community."

He said a shutdown is "very well what could happen" given precedents in other states.

When Illinois passed a civil unions bill in 2010, its backers promised that religious freedom would not be affected. However, the next year state officials used the law to end Catholic Charities agencies' $30 million in state contracts for its work in caring for about 2,000 foster children each year. The state ruled that the agencies were discriminatory against unmarried couples and homosexual couples.

In 2010, a "gay marriage" law in the District of Columbia forced Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington to end its foster care and public adoption program because the law required it to serve homosexual couples.

Massachusetts' anti-discrimination law forced Catholic Charities of Boston to end its adoption program, one of the oldest in the country.

Rohlena said that Catholic Charities of Central Colorado does not receive state funds to "any significant degree." It follows Church teaching in placing children only with married couples and does not see couples in civil unions as married. The agency has worked in foster care in the past and would like to do so  again in the future.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver, a separate Colorado agency, has provided adoption and foster care services since 1927. It also does not accept state funding for adoption services, but it can contract with county governments to place children with the agency's certified foster families.

"We believe that children are best served by one mother and one father, and that belief guides our placement decisions," the Denver-based agency told CNA Jan. 17.

Rohlena said the Colorado state constitution, like Catholic teaching, defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. He said this recognizes "the importance of that traditional marriage relationship for stability and advancement in society."

He said the previous civil unions bill had "pretty robust" sections protecting charitable agencies.

"Not only did it say that we would have the freedom to continue to operate within our understanding of Church teaching. It also had protections for civil liability so that we couldn't be sued for continuing to operate as we are now," he said.

"Those are not currently in the version of the bill that is being presented," Rohlena added, saying that he hoped that the protections will be put back into the legislation.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver said it will continue to monitor the bill, but its primary focus will be "to provide charitable, Christian service to those children in need, and to the families who so generously open their hearts and their homes to them."

The Colorado civil unions bill was killed in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives committee in 2011. In 2012, an unexpected yes vote from one Republican on a House committee sent the bill to the House floor, where it died in the tumultuous final hours of the legislative session. Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who backs the legislation,  called for a special session where the bill again failed to pass.

Colorado has become a center for gay activist groups and several influential multi-millionaires have supported these causes. In 2008, software entrepreneur Tim Gill told the LGBT Caucus at the Democratic National Convention in Denver that they should specifically concentrate donations on state legislatures and primary races to shift politics in their favor and to block potential rivals from rising to higher office.

In April 2011, Gill's lawyer Ted Trimpa told Denver's Fox 31 News that Gill could spend as much as $2 million in 2012 Colorado political races to shift the state House to Democrat control.

The Democrats took control of Colorado House in the 2012 elections and elected Rep. Mark Ferrandino as the first gay Speaker of the House. He is co-sponsoring the bill with Sen. Pat Steadman.

Kraska said the civil unions proposal contradicts the "will of the people" expressed in 2006, when voters rejected a civil unions equivalent bill and passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

The Colorado Catholic Conference has organized a rally to support and protect marriage on Jan. 25 from noon to 1 p.m. on the west steps of the State Capitol in Denver.