Around 200 opponents of a Colorado civil unions bill rallied at the state capitol Jan. 25, warning that the legislation not only redefines marriage but could shut down Catholic adoption agencies in the state.

"We stand up today because we see that the real goal of civil union legislation is social endorsement of same-sex unions, and soon enough, the redefinition of marriage," said rally speaker Kate Sweeney, assistant director of the Colorado-based Catholic women's group ENDOW.

"Those with same-sex attraction have the right to live as they choose. But they do not have the right to redefine marriage for the rest of us," she added.

Monsignor Thomas Fryar, the moderator of the curia for the Archdiocese of Denver, warned that the bill put religious freedom at risk.

"We have been involved in the state of Colorado for over 80 years in helping to take care of the children of our community and make sure they are placed in adoption and foster care in good, healthy, wholesome settings, for the good of our society," he said.

Similar laws in other states forced the Catholic Church to end these programs.

"And that's not right," he said. "If this law passes, there is going to be great persecution of the faithful. We cannot allow that."

The Colorado Catholic Conference organized the Protect and Support Marriage Rally in response to the legislature's consideration of S.B. 11, which would provide civil unions for same-sex and opposite-sex couples with all the rights and duties of civil marriage. Opponents say it allows "gay marriage" by another name and contradicts the Colorado Constitution's amendment defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

Unlike previous versions of the Colorado bill, the 2013 version lacks protections for child placement agencies that place children only with married couples. Government regulations and anti-discrimination laws in other states have shut down Catholic Charities adoption agencies and foster care, either directly or through the denial of government funds, because the agencies follow Catholic teaching and do not place children with same-sex or unmarried couples.

Bill sponsor Sen. Pat Steadman said that Catholic leaders still opposed his bill when it included the exemption so he decided not to include it in the latest version, the Denver Post reports. His same-sex partner died of pancreatic cancer last year.
At Friday's rally, former state Sen. Ed Jones reflected on his experience as an African-American in Mississippi and criticized those who depicted civil unions as a civil rights issue.

"I never saw a water fountain that said 'gays only,'" he said, urging participants to "send the governor a message" that the proposed legislation is "wrong."

In her remarks, Sweeney noted that marriage is "about bringing men and women together so that children have both mothers and fathers."

She recalled her own experience as a child of divorce and how she felt a "great vacuum" in the absence of her father despite the loving care of her mother and her many aunts.

Among the other speakers were several state senators and representatives, including House Minority Leader Frank McNulty. Luis Soto, director of the Archdiocese of Denver's Hispanic Ministry, also addressed the crowd and local talk radio host and lawyer Dan Caplis emceed the event.

Pastor Ron Brenning of Grace Chapel in Englewood, Colo. delivered the rally's opening prayer while Msgr. Fryar led the closing prayer.

Colorado Catholic Conference executive director Jennifer Kraska said Jan. 24 that the Catholic conference wanted the rally to be "a witness of the importance of marriage" and a way to let legislators know that constituents "feel strongly about protecting marriage."

Rally attendee John Faes of Denver, a parishioner of Holy Family Catholic Church, told CNA/EWTN News that he attended "to protect marriage, to protect the natural law that God has given us, to have this union between a man and a woman."

The bill was defeated in a House of Representatives committee in 2011 but its surprise committee victory in 2012 threw the Republican-controlled House into controversy. A filibuster at the close of the legislative session led the governor to call for a special session, where the bill was again defeated.

Democrats won control of the state House in the 2012 elections and are expected to pass the bill. Amendments to the bill may be offered any time within the process. On Wednesday the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against an amendment to restore protections for child placement agencies.