News (USA)

Kansas same-sex marriage opponents to revive religious freedom debate


TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas legislators will face renewed pressure next year to provide additional legal protections to those who want to avoid accommodating same-sex couples for religious reasons in the wake of federal courts nationwide invalidating state gay marriage bans.

A “religious freedom” measure failed in the Legislature earlier this year, even though conservative Republicans control both chambers and top GOP leaders strongly support the state constitution’s ban on gay marriage.

The debate pitted business groups against conservative religious leaders, a divide that aided gay rights advocates who argued that the legislation was more sweeping and discriminatory than advertised.

Same-sex marriage opponents argue that Kansas should shield their religious liberties before the state’s ban falls. The prospect is possible after the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which also has jurisdiction over Kansas, struck down Utah’s ban last month.

The Rev. Terry Fox, a prominent Southern Baptist minister in Wichita and a leader in getting voters to approve Kansas’ gay marriage ban in 2005, said he and other pastors are determined to get legislators to take up the issue after reconvening in January.

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The Kansas Catholic Conference also views additional legal protections as vital.

“We are not going to let it die. We are very committed,” Fox said. “The Body of Christ is a powerful movement when it comes together.”

Gay rights advocates also anticipate a legislative debate next year. Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading gay rights group, said that even without the 10th Circuit’s decision, at least a handful of social conservatives would want pass a law that treats gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Kansas residents as “second-class citizens.”

“I don’t think they’re going to stop their attacks,” Witt said.

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