Kansas Lawmakers Advance Same Sex Marriage Ban

A Kansas state House committee Thursday approved legislation that would allow businesses to deny service to same sex couples if there is a religious objection from an employee.

Supporters of the religious freedom bill say that it would protect Kansans who object to same sex marriages on religious grounds, while opponents said that it will lead to increased discrimination in the state. Thursday’s vote by the House Federal and State Affairs Committee sets the stage for another year of bitter legislative fights centered on social issues in the Sunflower State.

While same sex marriage is currently banned in Kansas, supporters of the bill said it is needed in the event the ban was overturned. Last month a federal judge overturned Oklahoma’s state ban on gay marriage.

“Based on what happened in Oklahoma, where a constitutional amendment on same sex marriage was struck down, Kansas has to adopt protections for religious freedom,” state Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady (R-Palco) told The Celock Report.

Supporters used the Federal and State Affairs Committee discussions to argue that the bill would apply to businesses that could potentially serve a same sex marriage. In addition, the bill would allow adoption and foster care agencies to deny services to same sex couples based on religious grounds, a plank pushed by the Catholic Church. At the same time, opponents argued that the bill would legalize discrimination and also open the door to dire consequences in other areas of state law.

Tom Witt, the executive director of the Kansas Equality Coalition, told The Celock Report that the bill’s wording could have more far reaching consequences than impacting the marriage services industry. He said the wording of the bill would allow for government officials to discriminate based on religious beliefs, noting that discrimination based on sexual orientation is not banned in the state.

State Rep. Emily Perry (D-Mission), a committee member opposed to the bill, told The Celock Report that particular concern is that the bill could lead local police departments from being able to decline to respond to domestic violence calls at the homes of same sex couples. She said under her reading of the bill police officers who have religious objections could decline to respond and refer the call to another police officer who did not have the religious objections.

Perry said her experiences volunteering with domestic violence groups has shown that the bill could have dire consequences beyond not being able to use a specific florist for a wedding.

“Minutes and seconds make a difference between life and death,” Perry said. “Domestic violence does not only effect straight couples, it effects everyone.”

Supporters deny that the bill could cause the police to decline to respond to a domestic violence call at the home of a same sex couple.

Couture-Lovelady argued that states that have legalized same sex marriage have put in place various religious freedom laws similar to the Kansas bill, including those with a more liberal political bent than Kansas. The move comes as Oregon voters prepare to face a referendum this year to allow a religious freedom law.

“It is not exactly red states that are doing this,” Couture-Lovelady said.

The bill follows a rise of conservative social legislation in Kansas, which comes after conservative Republican won control of both chambers of the state legislature in 2012. Other proposals in the past year include bills to further restrict abortion, increase Second Amendment rights and to ban strip clubs. Moderate Republicans, who had controlled the state Senate prior to the 2012 election, have argued that conservative Republicans intend of turning the state into an “ultraconservative utopia.”

Perry said that with the right wing turn of the state, the bill has a strong shot of passing the Legislature and heading to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk, she said that she’s hearing from constituents that they oppose the bill.

“I am not optimistic about it based on comments in committee,” Perry said of the bill’s potential defeat. “I received tons of emails from Kansans who are appalled. Hopefully they listen to the people of Kansas who disagree with discrimination against a group of people.”