Colorado today has passed a civil unions bill for gay couples. It essentially gives most of the rights of marriage, except for the word “marriage”.

The Colorado government, now completely run by Democrats, has done an about-face regarding civil unions for gay couples. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill allowing same-sex civil unions roughly a year ago after the same idea went down to defeat in what was then a Republican-led House. But last November Democrats won the House, having control of the Senate already, and the new alignment allowed the bill to be passed. It will go into effect May 1.

Most of the Republicans in the state government held fast against the measure because they wanted religious exemptions granted to those who oppose same-sex unions. Although churches are exempt, businesses and adoption agencies are now subject to the new law.

While gay couples should have the same legal rights as straight couples because we need to be encouraging committed relationships among homosexuals. Anything that helps build stable families is a good thing for society as a whole. In addition, I believe children in foster homes and orphanages should have the opportunity to live in loving homes, even if the parents are of the same sex. Ultimately, the ideal solution is to get government out of marriage but that may not be entirely possible.

However, there are some things we cannot throw away even as we expand legal privileges for homosexual couples and that is freedom of conscience and religious liberty. Any gay marriage or civil union legislation that does not have clear conscience protections for businesses and adoption agencies, among others, needs to be defeated and opposed by all those who believe in limited government and individual liberty. We cannot give legal privileges to a very small minority while depriving the right of freedom of conscience to religious believers.

Ironically, one of the reasons why I support gay marriage is to protect the freedom of conscience of those more liberally inclined churches and faiths to marry same sex couples and to have them have the same legal weight as heterosexual marriages. Can we truly call attacks on freedom of religion and conscience progress?

When government absolutely has to act, it must err on the side of individual liberty. Gay marriage should be no exception. While I do believe that we must grant the same legal privileges to same sex couples as we do heterosexual couples, we must protect religious liberty as well.