For proponents of Kansas’ new anti-gay legislation, well on its way to becoming law, the issue is “religious liberty.” That’s a fig leaf, though, for an unusually odious proposal.
The Kansas House has approved a bill aimed at keeping individuals, groups and businesses from being compelled to help with same-sex weddings. The House’s 72-49 vote Wednesday sends HB 2453 to the Senate.Supporters describe it as a religious freedom measure. Opponents contend it will encourage discrimination against gays and lesbians.The bill would bar government sanctions when individuals, groups and businesses cite religious beliefs in refusing to recognize a marriage or civil union, or to provide goods, services, accommodations or employment benefits to a couple.
In real-word terms, this is about as offensive as you might expect. Kansans who can cite “sincerely held religious beliefs” against homosexuality would effectively have license to discriminate to a degree that’s quite shocking.
Indeed, the implications are just dizzying, and hard to comprehend in the context of 21st-century policymaking.
Mark Joseph Stern pushed back against assertions that fears surrounding the measure are overblown.
When passed, the new law will allow any individual, group, or private business to refuse to serve gay couples if “it would be contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Private employers can continue to fire gay employees on account of their sexuality. Stores may deny gay couples goods and services because they are gay. Hotels can eject gay couples or deny them entry in the first place. Businesses that provide public accommodations – movie theaters, restaurants – can turn away gay couples at the door.And if a gay couple sues for discrimination, they won’t just lose; they’ll be forced to pay their opponent’s attorney’s fees. As I’ve noted before, anti-gay businesses might as well put out signs alerting gay people that their business isn’t welcome.
But what makes Kansas’ proposal even more breathtaking is that public-sector, government employees can also cite their religion to discriminate against LGBT Kansans – at the DMV, in libraries, at hospitals, at the police department, etc.
State Rep. Charles Macheers (R), one of the leading proponents of the bill, said the proposal would “prevent discrimination” and would put Kansas “on the right side of history.”
There’s no indication he was kidding.
The bill easily passed the Kansas House this week and is expected to fare well in the Republican-controlled state Senate. There’s no reason to think Gov. Sam Brownback (R), a fierce opponent of gay rights, would veto the bill if/when it reaches his desk.