A bill passed by the Kansas House of Representatives that could legalize discrimination against gay couples seems unlikely to pass in the state Senate, according to Kansas lawmakers.
On Wednesday, the Kansas House voted 72-49 to approve HB 2453, which offers legal protection to individuals and businesses that refuse service for same-sex couples, specifically those looking to get married. Under the bill’s language, individuals, businesses and government employees would be immune from legal reprisal for refusing service if they have “sincerely held religious beliefs” opposing customers’ marriages. Though the bill is described as protecting religious freedom, LGBT organizations see it as condoning open discrimination.
Despite outrage from LGBT rights groups, it briefly appeared appeared that the bill could sail through the Senate as well, considering that both chambers of the Kansas legislature are controlled by conservative Republicans. Now, however, it appears that the bill will die in the Senate.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a conservative Republican, announced last week that she will ensure that a majority of Republicans will vote against the bill should it come up in the Senate. While Wagle and other conservatives believe in traditional marriage, she says, they draw the line at discrimination.
"A strong majority of my members support laws that define traditional marriage, protect religious institutions and protect individuals from being forced to violate their personal moral values," Wagle said in a statement. “However, my members also don't condone discrimination."
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On Friday, Kansas Senate leaders announced that if HB 2453 does appear on the Senate floor, they will work to remove two key provisions. According to the Kansas City Star, Senate leaders plan to remove government employees and employees of private nonreligious businesses from those who would be protected from denying service to same-sex couples. These changes come partly at the suggestion of Equality Kansas, a pro-gay rights group.
“Equality Kansas proposed amendments in the House that we believe would have made the bill more acceptable, and if the Senate chooses to move forward with hearings, we look forward to working with them to draft language that will protect the religious liberties of all Kansans, while at the same time ensuring the dignity of gay and lesbian couples across the state,” Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, told the Topeka Capital-Journal.
Kansas Senate leaders aren’t the only ones to object to the bill’s legalization of discrimination, either. A group of church leaders appeared at the state Capitol to protest the bill on Friday.
"Ostensibly, this bill is being presented as a bill about religious freedom," Aaron Roberts, minister at Colonial Church in Prairie Village, told the Capital-Journal. "It's actually a license for bigotry."
Though HB 2453 is unlikely to pass into Kansas law, that doesn’t mean that LGBT Kansans enjoy complete legal equality. As the Kansas City Star notes, sexual orientation is not a protected class in Kansas state or federal anti-discrimination bills.