Kan. House panel hears testimony on bill allowing discrimination against gays

Kan. House panel hears testimony on bill allowing discrimination against gays

Updated: 3:00 p.m. CST

TOPEKA, Kan. — Opponents of same-sex marriage urged Kansas legislators Tuesday to approve new legal protections for bakeries, photographers and others who refuse for religious reasons to supply goods or services for same-sex ceremonies, anticipating that federal courts could soon strike down the state’s ban on such unions.

KansasBut gay rights advocates said the bill backed by social conservatives and the Kansas Catholic Conference would permit individuals, businesses and groups to discriminate against gays and lesbians and encourage government officials to ignore court rulings favoring gay marriage.

The House Federal and State Affairs Committee’s hearing on the bill came in an uncertain legal climate for Kansas and other states that ban gay marriage. Federal judges in Oklahoma and Utah recently struck down bans in those states, which are under the jurisdiction of the same federal appeals court as Kansas.

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 same-sex marriage or domestic partnership.

The measure also prohibits anti-discrimination lawsuits on such grounds.

The committee was continuing its hearings Wednesday and hadn’t set a date for acting on the measure.

Supporters of the bill cite examples where a state agency in Oregon and an administrative law judge in Colorado recently found that bakers who refused to make wedding cakes for same-sex ceremonies had discriminated against the couples. Cases in other states have involved refusals to provide flowers or take photos of same-sex marriages.

State Rep. Charles Macheers, a conservative Shawnee Republican and attorney who’s pushing the Kansas measure, acknowledged that he knows of no similar cases in Kansas. But supporters said they’re trying to prevent similar problems.

The bill would also allow religiously-affiliated adoption agencies to continue declining to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried individuals.

“Religious freedom has always meant the freedom to live one’s faith and to bring your religiously informed moral judgments into the public square,” said Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference.

Gay rights advocates worry about a provision allowing 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 Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading gay-rights group, called it “just another way to maintain the discrimination against a minority of people in this state.”

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