Gov. Bill Owens (search) vetoed a bill Friday that would have outlawed workplace discrimination against gays. But he allowed a measure to take effect extending protection to gays under Colorado's hate crimes law.

The workplace discrimination bill would have prohibited an employer from firing, demoting or harassing an employee based on sexual orientation.

Owens, a Republican, said he considered the measure unnecessary and said it could force employers to spend a lot of money defending lawsuits.

Opponents of the bill had argued that an employer might not know the sexual orientation of a job applicant or employee but could be sued for alleged discrimination nonetheless.

House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (search), a Democrat, said he was disappointed by the veto.

"It's a good thing Bill Owens wasn't governor in the 1960s or we wouldn't have civil rights laws on the books," Romanoff said.

Gay rights groups said it did not make sense for Owens to let one bill become law and veto another.

"On the one hand, you have the governor saying it's wrong to inflict violence on gay people, but it's OK to fire a person because they are gay," said David Smith (search), vice president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Owens said he let the hate crimes bill become law without his signature because it was part of an omnibus crime bill. The measure would increase penalties for attacking gays because of their sexual orientation.