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Analysis: Marriage shift has religious conservatives in Kansas scrambling

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. — Religious conservatives in Kansas fear that the legal wall they built against same-sex marriage will soon tumble, and they’re looking for legislators to help them dig a new line of defense in resisting a growing American acceptance of same-sex relationships.

A cultural shift already was underway in 2005, when 70 percent of voters in a special election approved an amendment to the state constitution to ban gay marriage. Conservative religious leaders and their legislative allies believed the amendment would prevent lawmakers or the state courts from overturning the traditional policy on marriage – perhaps long after a majority of Kansans no longer had moral objections to gay and lesbian relationships.

Gay-marriage opponents now worry that their Kansas bulwark might not hold up much longer, thanks to recent federal court decisions in Oklahoma and Utah striking down those states’ bans. The Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee plans to debate a bill Tuesday that anticipates a day when the state recognizes same-sex marriages.

The bill would block lawsuits or government sanctions against individuals, groups and businesses refusing on religious grounds to recognize same-sex marriages or declining to provide goods, services, accommodations or benefits to gay couples.

Supporters are quick to note that the bill’s language isn’t specifically limited to same-sex relationships and describe it as an even-handed religious liberties measure. Yet Kansas lawmakers almost certainly wouldn’t be considering such a proposal at all if the legal and cultural climate surrounding gay marriage hadn’t shifted dramatically, endangering the state’s constitutional ban less than a decade after its enactment.

“At that time, we thought that – that put some finality to the issue,” said Rep. Steve Brunk, the House committee’s chairman, a conservative Wichita Republican.

Under the bill, no individual, business or religious group with “sincerely held religious beliefs” could be required by “any governmental entity” to provide services, facilities, goods, employment or employment benefits related to any marriage or domestic partnership. The measure prohibits anti-discrimination lawsuits on such grounds.

“It protects individuals with clear religious sensitivities on the issue of marriage, one way or the other,” Brunk said.

One provision would allow government employees to invoke religious liberty protections to avoid involvement in providing services. The bill’s backers said workers’ ability to opt out still would be limited by federal civil rights laws and past court decisions, but gay-rights advocates are worried about the language.

Opponents said whatever the precise language of the bill, it targets gays and lesbians, sanctions discrimination against them in their daily lives and encourages government officials to ignore court rulings favoring gay marriage .

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading gay-rights group, said the bill also is a sign of “panic” among gay marriage opponents.

He said they had counted on the state constitutional amendment to settle the debate for decades. Even if public opinion shifted in favor of gay marriage, its supporters would still need two-thirds majorities in both legislative chambers to get a repeal proposal on the ballot.

A 1996 state law barred Kansas from recognizing any marriage other than a union of one man with one woman, but opponents of gay marriage came to worry that a state court would strike it down. In 2003, Massachusetts’ highest court declared that state could not ban gay marriage.

Some gay-marriage opponents, particularly conservative clergy, believed Kansas voters made a broader statement about gay relationships when they approved the constitutional change in 2005. The Rev. Joe Wright, then senior pastor at Wichita’s Central Christian Church, said Kansans were reacting to efforts by gays and lesbians to gain acceptance “of their lifestyle.”

“I think that rubs people as raw as them wanting to get married does,” Wright said after the 2005 vote. “I think most Americans do view it as a perversion.”

The leader of an anti-amendment group at the time accused gay-marriage opponents of making the debate “about gay sex,” adding, “It was all about the ick factor.”

But last year, Gallup polling showed that a slight majority of Americans favored allowing gay marriages nationwide, and the polling organization said the issue had reached “a tipping point.”

“The people who worked to pass that amendment in 2005 knew today was coming,” Witt said.

Witt said that if federal courts invalidate state bans, churches, clergy and other individuals still couldn’t be compelled to perform ceremonies or participate because of existing religious liberties protections in the state and federal consti tutions.

But Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, said the threat to religious liberty is broader.

For example, he said, could a church that opposes gay marriage be forced to make its sanctuary available for a same-sex couple’s wedding, even if its clergy does not participate? Schuttloffel said if the church reaches out to non-members, its building could be viewed as a public accommodation, not a facility only for the use of a small, set group.

“That’s the whole point of our ministries,” he said. “It’s not just to hunker down with ourselves but to try to bring God’s love out into the world.”

Schuttloffel told the House committee during a hearing last week that religious liberty means not only that people are free to worship as they please but are free to live out faith in their daily – and public – lives. For some Kansans, that means continuing to register moral disapproval of gay relationships even if society an d the law don’t anymore.

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51 more reader comments:

  1. Oh, poor ignorant folks. Time to give up the ghost and stop fighting against equality.

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 7:57pm
  2. It will tumble sooner or later. The revolution is on…

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 7:58pm
  3. topeka ks home of the most bigoted people: wesboro baptist ‘church’…

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 7:59pm
  4. good. get over yourselves.

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 7:59pm
  5. Kansas will fall eventually and hopefully that wacko church with it!

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:00pm
  6. OHh Shit I forgot the WBC was located in Kansas..

    Replied on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:13pm
  7. Trust me the town they reside in aren't that thrilled either. My straight ally aunt lives their.

    Replied on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 9:41pm
  8. Over light for me please =D

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:01pm
  9. About time for equality…. those against Gay marriage… simple… don’t marry a gay person!!! Get over yourselves down there this is 2014…the world changes!!

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:04pm
  10. DON’T WORRY… KANSAS WILL FALL, TOO!!

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:07pm
  11. Where are these hypocrites laws that say I can turn dwn someone or discriminate against them because I do not recognize Christianity as anything but a government form of oppression and legal grounds to commit rape, child molestation, and genocide.

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:07pm
  12. AND THE WALLS
    COME TUMBLIN’ DOWN
    WHEN THE WALLS
    COME CRUMBLIN CRUMBLIN :D

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:08pm
  13. If they are scrambling eggs, I’ll have mine with a side of grits. Thanks.

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:08pm
  14. I’d love to see the look on Westboro Boro Baptists when same-sex marriage is legalized in Kansas.

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:09pm
  15. So, using this argument, if I owned a business I could discriminate against closed minded Christians? Just curious.

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:10pm
  16. Toto…I didn’t think Kansas was so homophobic….to oz!

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:10pm
  17. TOTO!!!!!

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:10pm
  18. Alysha Lewis I remember when I was a kid. Bigots always used to protest around Gage Park.

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:12pm
  19. Good. Let them scramble.

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:12pm
  20. Crazy

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:14pm
  21. Kansas is so conservative. Living here and seeing that brings hope. If Kansas can consider it then in no time it will stretch to every state.

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:15pm
  22. What’s the matter with Kansas? Plenty!

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:17pm
  23. homsexuals are the same as heterosexuals legally

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:23pm
  24. Dorothy Dorothy….Toto is GAY!!!!!

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:23pm
  25. Coming to a town near you.. Kimberly Forester.. ❤️

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:29pm
  26. Scramble away!

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:32pm
  27. This is do stupid fix economy live and let live end homophobia the world has bigger problems!

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:34pm
  28. I’m a Kansan and I’m gay. Ironically I came out in Kansas after I moved from Oklahoma. Silly me.

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:36pm
  29. You can Thank Rep. Charles Macheers for writing that law and introducing it. His link is located here:http://kslegislature.org/li/b2013_14/members/rep_macheers_charles_1/

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 8:44pm
  30. “Any government entity?” Oh, honey…SCOTUS has a few words for you…

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 9:01pm
  31. Kansas!!

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 9:04pm
  32. One of the many reasons to vote straight line Democrat. Given the Republicans’ redistricting and various voter suppression tactics, make sure your vote is counted!

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 9:08pm
  33. Don’t they have any recollection of the Jim Crow laws in the South that allowed for segregation on similar “religious or moral” grounds? The courts made short shrift of those. These won’t last long at all. And the proponents will join the others on the pariah side of history.

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 9:23pm
  34. Dorothy was an icon and so is her daughter Liza Minelli. Im suprised she hasnt got anything to say about that! Bam!

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 9:27pm
  35. Kansas scared of the prospect of being dragged into the 20th century. (No, that wasn’t a typo)

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 9:30pm
  36. Conservatives be like “scramble the jets… call the salvation army… ready your bibles, some major sh*t’s about to go down!!!!!!!!”

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 9:36pm
  37. I live in this “wonderful” state :/

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 10:19pm
  38. Kansas ought to be worrying more about domestic violence destroying families than whatever gay population they have in the state. Freaking idiots.

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 10:57pm
  39. Kansas needs to get the sticks out of their asses and do what is right for mankind instead of what’s right for a certain group of people who just want their way, based on religious bullshit that not everyone believes in. The real problems are the religious crazy people homeschooling their kids.

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 11:00pm
  40. You hate law will not hold up in court. Even if the initial court test holds up there is coming a day when your vite, hate will chew you up and spit you out by the most powerful religious group of the world. You will no longer be able to use your asinine laws to prevent from servicing people you do not like!! I will not put anything further down here but the day is coming and sooner than you think.

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 11:19pm
  41. I am sick & tired of this kind of rationale for discriminatory behavior. It sounds so reasonable until you think about what it really means. Would we (as a country) accept it if people refused to provide equal services based on “race?” Would we agree it’s OK for people to refuse services for white people based on their religious beliefs? No? Would it be OK if businesses refused to serve women based on religious beliefs? We already had this one & the answer is no. Then why should it be OK to refuse to provide services to same sex couples?

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 11:20pm
  42. Only the right handed will be served. If you’re left handed you’re screwed.

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 11:23pm
  43. YOU CANT TAKE THE SAS OUT OF KANSAS!!

    Can you imagine the outcry if a Gay owned business refused on religious grounds to refuse services to lets say a prolife group or a Christian Church; not that we would be so callus, but the outcry that would be generated would be above par to what they are producing now against us when all we want to do is celebrate love and equality in the land of the free.

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 11:32pm
  44. Kansas is stupid use to live there !!!

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 11:42pm
  45. Baby look C Alcid Little

    Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 11:46pm
  46. More simply put, they realize that the Supreme Court will not let them continue to deprive people of life, liberty, and property without due process of law, so now they want to find a new way to deprive people of life, liberty, and property without due process of law.

    For some Republicans and Conservatives, the Bill of Rights, which was actually a prerequisite for many states to ratify the Constitution, is not considered part of the United States constitution. Neither are the other amendments, especially the 14th Amendment.

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 12:52am
  47. we will fight your bigotry at every turn love will win.

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 12:58am
  48. What’s the use, zombie-believers?

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 1:29am
  49. I’m from Kansas, came out in Arizona, and proud to be legally married to my fantastic wife, Mary. Kansans needs to get their collective heads out of the sand!

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 3:04am
  50. tear down this wall..

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 3:06am
  51. i live in this hell hole. the government is taking away from the poor and leaving us even worse off. no health care for those who are struggling. limited access to benefits for the homeless. this state is a disaster.

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 4:12am