TOPEKA, Kan. -— Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback described the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage as a potential threat to religious liberties, while Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon called it an important step toward creating a fairer society.
Advocates on both sides of the issue and the border Wednesday noted the sharp contrast in the neighboring governors’ responses, a day after both issued executive orders.
Both Midwestern states have Republican-controlled legislatures, and voters in both overwhelmingly adopted amendments to their state constitutions a decade or more ago to reinforce policies against gay marriage. But Brownback is a GOP conservative and a vocal supporter of his state’s ban, and Nixon is a Democrat who acted two years ago to see that same-sex couples married in other states could file joint tax returns.
“The cultural divide is pretty clearly illustrated with Kansas and Missouri,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian legal aid group. “That’s a division right down the middle of America.”
Brownback’s order Tuesday told Kansas government agencies they can’t punish ministers or religious groups for opposing same-sex marriage. His order said the “imposition” of gay marriage through the U.S. Supreme Court decision last month could lead to “potential infringements” of religious liberties.
Nixon’s order directed Missouri state agencies to “immediately take all necessary measures” to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision. He called on his state’s lawmakers to expand anti-discrimination laws to cover gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered residents, calling it “the right thing to do.”
Neither governor’s office would comment on the other’s actions. Their state line runs through the Kansas City metropolitan area, and many of its 2 million-plus residents regularly cross the border to work, shop and play.
Court clerks in Kansas are issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in all 105 counties. The state announced just before Brownback issued his order that gays and lesbians could change their last names on their driver’s licenses and the health insurance plan for state workers would cover same-sex spouses.
Gay rights advocates in Kansas were struck by Nixon’s positive reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court decision.
“Gov. Nixon recognizes the basic humanity of the LGBT residents of his state,” said Sandra Meade, a resident of the Kansas City suburb of Olathe, and chairwoman of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading gay-rights group. “We just don’t get that from Gov. Brownback.”
Meanwhile, opponents of same-sex marriage in Missouri said protecting religious liberties — and the ability of individuals to live out their faith in daily life — is a compelling issue. Staver said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling affects “core issues of faith that cannot be changed or compromised.”
The Kansas governor’s action is designed to shield churches, clergy, religious leaders and religious groups refusing to perform same-sex weddings or provide goods, services or accommodations for them. The order includes religious organizations providing social services for the state and prevents state agencies from altering contracts, changing a group’s tax-exempt status or denying grants, loans, licenses or accreditation.
Nixon’s order and prepared remarks Tuesday did not mention the issue. He said his order makes it clear that local officials are to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision.
“It is a disgrace that some reasonable accommodation can’t be made,” said Don Hinkle, director of public policy for the 600,000-member Missouri Baptist Convention. “We are terribly disappointed that our governor does not seem to have any sympathy.”
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