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Kansas anti-gay bill killed

Timothy Kincaid

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.

Comments

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Mark F.
February 19th, 2014 | LINK

Horrible bill, whatever your political beliefs.

Merv
February 19th, 2014 | LINK

It was a horrible bill. However, I suspect it would have passed if it weren’t for the Chamber of Commerce objections. There was also a slight reluctance to enable fire, police, and other government employees to refuse to provide services based on religious objections. And why bother with new legislation when it’s already legal in Kansas for businesses to discriminate against gay people?

I don’t think they cared at all about the objections of gay people or liberal Christians. Republicans hate both those groups, and they’re tiny enough to safely ignore.

Steven B
February 20th, 2014 | LINK

“And why bother with new legislation when it’s already legal in Kansas for businesses to discriminate against gay people?”

For the same reason that states rushed to pass constitutional amendments against marriage equality even though same-sex marriage was already prohibited by their state statutes.

Steven B
February 20th, 2014 | LINK

Let’s just suppose these exemption laws are more carefully worded and are limited strictly to the wedding ceremony / reception / honeymoon. Here is a list of the stumbling blocks a couple might encounter when negotiating with all the people who can now deny them services based on those “deeply held religious beliefs,” even without a slippery slope leading to indiscriminate discrimination.

Ceremony:
ceremony venue
reception venue
officient
photographer
musicians and entertainers
florists
caterers
bakers
planners
jewelers
hairdressers and stylists
clothing rental and purchase
hotel guest accommodations
travel accommodations
invitation printing
napkins and accessories
restaurants for wedding lunches and dinners
outdoor lighting, seating, rest room facilities
newspaper wedding announcements
State marriage licensing personnel

Honeymoon: hotels, travel personnel and arrangement, airlines, limos, baggage clerks, ticket attendants, security personnel, passports and visas, doctors, travel agents, child care, pet sitters.

Nathaniel
February 20th, 2014 | LINK

Having read over the bill a couple of times, I still haven’t seen what would make it specifically target gay unions. Many writers have pointed out how it wouldn’t even specifically target the trappings surrounding marriage and being married. But what I read in it was permission to discriminate on any grounds related to marriage, sex and sexuality. This bill could just as easily have targeted any person in a relationship held objectionable by the discriminator, so long as it was justifiably religious in nature (and even that is likely unnecessary, since you couldn’t take said person to court to determine whether the reason for the discrimination was sufficiently religious to justify).

Merv, liberal Christians are hardly a “tiny” group. Of course, things like this are increasingly attracting the ire of moderate Christians tired of having their faith employed in politics. Between the two, you are probably looking at the majority of American Christians.

Merv
February 20th, 2014 | LINK

Nathaniel, I read the bill as similarly broad, and didn’t even exclude government workers, such as police and fire.

I disagree with you about liberal Christians. Compare the denomination sizes of the Episcopals and the UCC to the SBC and RCC. Not only are they small, they’ve been conspicuously silent, except for the occasional photo op.

Timothy Kincaid
February 20th, 2014 | LINK

Merv:

Active Christians make up about 77.4% of Americans. Denominationally, they are

12% Catholics (total are about 24% but more than half defy the church on gay rights issues)
5.1% United Methodist
2% Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
0.5 Presbyterian Church USA (I’m counting half of them)
1.0 Episcopal Church
0.5 UCC
0.3 Quakers

Or about 19.4% of Americans (of 25% of Christians) can be assumed to be pro-gay Christians just from these six denominations.

Then there millions of other Christians who may attend less supportive denominations or churches but who do not buy into the crazy homophobic political stunts. For example, many churches allow gay pastors, but don’t support marriage equality. Or they welcome gay members but don’t allow pastors. These may seem “anti-gay”, and they are compared to UCC or Episcopalians, but that doesn’t mean that they would support discrimination.

And – to be honest – about half of “Christians” don’t attend church much and they too are supportive.

And even within very hostile denominations, many members are not personally homophobic or many individual churches simply never ever EVER talk about it.

Actually the anti-gay activist Christians are a teeny-tiny minority of Americans who identify as Christians.

Merv
February 21st, 2014 | LINK

Thanks, Timothy.

I can’t deny there have been improvements in the membership, but institutionally the large denominations remain anti-gay. And it’s hard to ignore the fact that the very biggest denominations are the most anti-gay.

RCC – Biggest by far. Institutionally very anti-gay, and active politically, despite split among members.

SBC – Second biggest. Very anti-gay both institutionally and among members.

UMC – Distant third. Institutionally split, but leaning anti-gay.

ELC – Leaning pro-gay, but only within the last few years.

Those are the big ones, and there’s not an unambiguously and vocally pro-gay denomination among them. The rest of the mainline churches are very small. UCC and Episcopals are generally pro-gay, but Presbyterians less so. I don’t know if the Quakers have a unified stand, considering how they operate, but I get the impression that they’re not as liberal as their reputation (Nixon was one, after all).

Then there are all the unaffiliated churches, which make up a growing percentage, and tend to be extremely anti-gay.

I’ll concede it’s not a total disaster, but it’s nothing to be happy about. Add to that, as you noted, the most anti-gay are the most vocal, the impression from the outside (where I am) is not very good.

Then you have the internet. It’s a nightmare. I visit comment sections from various sites such as YouTube, Yahoo, news sites, miscellaneous forums. Self-identified Christians are overwhelmingly anti-gay. You’ll rarely find a commenter on a site for general audiences who is strongly pro-gay and identifies as Christian. It’s shocking how one-sided it is. And the ones who are anti-gay are often incredibly nasty and hateful. That, and the Christian political stuff have left me with a really bad impression.

Timothy Kincaid
February 21st, 2014 | LINK

Merv,

I have to disagree:

RCC: polls show that a majority of American Catholics are in favor of marriage equality. Irrespective of what a Bishop may say, he’s vastly outnumbered by Catholics who do NOT favor discrimination.

SBC – yeah that’s anti gay at both the leadership and the parishioner level.

UMC – they are voted down by foreign delegates from Africa and Asia, but the majority of American Methodists are strongly pro-gay. They are among the most activist of supporters.

ELCA – strongly pro-gay. They are one of the denominations that not only ordain gay ministers but allow the sacraments of marriage.

Yes , Internet Christians are a terror. But those who go online to comment about Teh HomoSEXshuls are limited to the most passionate (ie most nuts). They aren’t representative.

I think it likely that in American Christendom, an issue like marriage is still probably not in the majority. But I suspect that we would have a majority of self-identified Christian who would oppose discrimination.

Priya Lynn
February 21st, 2014 | LINK

Timothy said “Or about 19.4% of Americans (of 25% of Christians) can be assumed to be pro-gay Christians just from these six denominations.”.

Care to hazard a guess as to what the total percentage of christians is who are 100% pro-gay?

Timothy Kincaid
February 21st, 2014 | LINK

Priya Lynn,

This would just be a guess. It’s a gut feeling based on watching polls, reading news, and looking at the inner debates within the denominations.

And by “Christians” here, I mean church goers (about half the nation), not just those who answer “ummmm… Christian?” when asked their religious affiliation.

30% Strongly pro-gay
30% Strongly anti-gay
40% Depends on the issue

In that latter category I would include a lot of Mormons and Baptists and others who oppose marriage equality but support non-discrimination laws and perhaps civil unions. Also a lot of the non-denominational churches or the smaller, less political denominations like Brethren.

I think the trend is from the “depends” category into the “pro-gay” category. The anti-gays are becoming much more quiet on this issue, many exhausted or starting to feel mean-spirited or socially unacceptable. However, I don’t see a lot of theological or political shift in this group yet.

Fortunately, in the past few years the pro-gays have become much much more vocal and many now see this as a “peace and justice” issue, something that their faith requires them to address.

Ten years ago that didn’t exist much at all; now nearly every article I read about the struggle for rights (or to oppose anti-gay legislation) mentions some pastor there fighting for inclusion and equality.

I very much think that we will continue to see movement within American Christendom. Probably more so than some issues like abortion or the death penalty. And it depends on the denomination; those more democratically organized will move faster than, say, the Roman Catholic Church, which still doesn’t allow women priests.

Nathaniel
February 21st, 2014 | LINK

Getting numbers from site comments is hardly helpful. 1st, while the strongest opposition might lie in religious doctrine, pro-gay stances don’t necessarily rely on religious arguments, so pro-gay commentators would not be as obviously religious as the anti-gays. 2nd is the troll response. Religious people so rabidly anti-gay as to spew hate- and ignorance-filled comments would primarily attract comments from rabidly anti-religious. Otherwise rational people would see little point in arguing. Finally, the host site might influence who comments and how. If the tone of the article is primarily pro-gay, then there might be little reason to comment if you agree with it. Meanwhile, anti-gay sites are more likely to censor pro-gay comments. All together, this would skew observations towards only seeing comments from the religious anti-gay establishment. In the real world, a great many of our allies (and not a few LGBT people, either) are Christian, and the work they have been doing is having far greater and longer-term impact than the screeching of those paid to be anti-gay celebrities, and it isn’t hard to see why.

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