We’ll give a tip of the hat to Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle for pouring some cold water on a House bill that would allow Kansans to discriminate against gay couples on religious grounds.
And we’ll offer rousing applause for state Reps. Sydney Carlin, Tom Phillips and Vern Swanson for voting against the measure. For Reps. Phillips and Swanson, both of whom are Republicans, these were the kinds of votes that generates right-wing opposition in primary elections.
Sen. Wagle’s statement Thursday that the House bill did not have the support of a majority of Senate Republicans was a breath of fresh air, particularly given that she is one of the Legislature’s most prominent conservatives. She also said, “A strong majority of my members support laws that define traditional marriage, protect religious institutions and protect individuals from being forced to violate their personal moral values.”
Importantly, she added, “However, my members also don’t condone discrimination.”
That matters because discrimination is precisely what the House bill would allow.
The bill would prohibit government sanctions or anti-discrimination lawsuits against individuals, groups and businesses that refuse, on religious grounds, to provide goods, services, accommodations or employment benefits to same-sex couples. What’s more, individuals or religious entities would not have to treat “any marriage, domestic partnership or civil union or similar arrangement as valid.”
The legislation arose out of concern that a federal judge will rule that the state’s 2005 constitutional marriage amendment defining marriage as solely between one man and one woman violates the U.S. Constitution.
That amendment also prohibits Kansas from recognizing any relationship other than a traditional marriage that would “entitle the parties… to the rights or incidents of marriage.”
Given that marriage amendments in several other states have been set aside, fears that the Kansas amendment’s days are numbered are reasonable.
However, those fears don’t justify a state law that treats same-sex couples as second-class citizens. And that, despite the protestations of supporters of this bill, is what this bill would do.
Religious freedom is not threatened in Kansas, by same-sex couples or any other groups. That cannot be allowed. Nor should religion be used as a vehicle to permit discrimination, as this legislation would do.
Advocates of this bill say their intent is to protect the religious liberties of those who are offended by homosexuality. That’s fine until that protection erodes the rights of citizens they find offensive.