Kansas anti-gay bill killed
February 19th, 2014
Last week the Kansas House of Representatives passed a broad and sweeping bill to “protect the religious beliefs” of individuals and businesses who object to same sex marriage and who wish to discriminate against gay couples. In addition to providing that businesses need not provide the commercial trappings of marriage to gay couples, it also allowed individuals – whether in a private capacity or as an employee of a business or even a civil servant – the right to claim religious exemption from providing the services of their company or of the state. In a final ‘gotcha’, it excluded same sex couples from the right within the state to sue for discrimination.
The Kansas House, comprised mostly of Republicans, voted 72 to 49 for the bill. What happened next is interesting.
As could be expected, civil libertarians, civil rights activists, and supporters of gay equality all decried the bill. And legal scholars pointed out that after Romer v Evans, excluding a class of individuals from the right to legal recourse was on it’s face unconstitutional.
But, nevertheless, most pundits expected the Kansas Senate, also controlled by Republicans, to pull out a big rubber stamp and join in on the bacchanalia of bigotry.
Surprisingly, they did not.
It seems that the GOP Senators, unlike the GOP Representatives, took a look at their political alliances, their hope for a future reputation, and the implications of this bill on the Republican brand, saw this for what it was: an invitation to treat gay people cruely. And the bill now appears dead. (NY Times)
Susan Wagle, a conservative Republican who is president of the Kansas Senate, raised opposition to the House measure, saying she had “grown concerned about the practical impact of the bill” and “my members don’t condone discrimination.”
Ms. Wagle was backed by Senator Jeff King, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who said he would not hold hearings on the House bill.
But it was not merely Wagle’s conscience that led to the bill’s demise. It was also the objections of Business and Religion.
As written, the bill would put employers – especially small businesses – in an awkward and complicated and likely expensive position. Staffing would be based on the personal beliefs of employees rather than on the needs of the market and in a less-than-stellar economy this was a burden that could kill a company with only a few employees.
Opponents included the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which said that the measure could lead to increased costs for businesses. The chamber took particular exception to a provision in the bill that said that if an employee of the government or “other nonreligious entity” objected to providing a service based on religious beliefs, the employer would have to find another employee to fill in or find some other way to provide the service.
Businesses were “not interested in getting into these guessing games as to someone’s intent and whether a strongly held religious belief is legitimate or not,” said Mike O’Neal, the president of the chamber.
And the claim about “protecting religious beliefs” was damaged by strong opposition to the bill by some religious groups. The Episcopal Church led the religious opposition in the strongest terms. (HuffPo)
For Episcopalians, our faith is unequivocal. Our Baptismal Covenant asks, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?” Promising to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being requires us to be adamantly opposed to legislation that does none of these things.
Our biblically based faith calls us to live out the command of Jesus Christ to love one another. You cannot love your fellow Kansans and deny them the rights that belong to everyone else.
And they were not alone. Less conservative churches are now increasingly speaking up to counter the message that faith is universally anti-gay. (UPI)
Many ministers in the state oppose the bill and say it has nothing to do with religious freedom. Kate McGee of Presbyterian Trinity Church in Topeka, Aaron Roberts of Colonial Church in Prairie Village and Chad Herring of John Knox Kirk in Kansas City, Mo., joined forces Friday to lobby against it.
McGee said religious beliefs should not be codified in Kansas law.
“If businesses rejected sinners, they would have no customers,” McGee said. “They themselves wouldn’t be able to shop in their own businesses. Where does it stop?”
Some form of bill may yet arise in the Kansas Senate. Sen. King has said that while no substitute bill is in the wings, he’ll hold hearings to see if any additional protections are needed. But it is a sign of our eminent equality that Business, Religion, and the GOP Senate aligned to kill this anti-gay bill.