Archive for Friday, January 31, 2014

Kansas: ‘Religion freedoms’ bill stirs clashing viewpoints

January 31, 2014

— Supporters of a "religious freedoms" bill said this week that it would protect religious beliefs, but opponents said the measure would allow widespread discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Lori Wagner, of Lawrence, said she and her wife "will become the victims of real and legally sanctioned discrimination," if House Bill 2453 becomes law. Wagner was married in 2012 in Iowa, which recognizes same-sex marriages.

The bill, heard in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, says no individual, business or religious group with sincerely held religious beliefs can be required by any government agency to provide services, facilities, goods, employment or employment benefits for a same-sex marriage or domestic partnership.

Supporters of the bill said the bill was needed to provide legal protection for wedding-related businesses, such as florists and photographers, who refuse to work at same-sex weddings or ceremonies because they held religious beliefs that same-sex marriage was wrong.

Robert Noland, with the Kansas Family Policy Council, said Kansans shouldn't be compelled to do something their religion said they shouldn't do.

Michael Shuttloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, said, "Do we really believe mom and pop businesses should be shut down because they won't compromise their sincere religious beliefs?"

But opponents of the bill said the proposal was much broader than applying only to wedding-related situations.

State Rep. Emily Perry, D-Mission, questioned whether under the bill a police officer could cite religious reasons and refuse to render aid during a domestic disturbance that involved a same-sex couple

Micheline Burger, with the Mainstream Coalition, said that the bill would allow a waiter to refuse to serve a same-sex couple.

"This allows anyone in a private business or governmental entity, if you have religious beliefs that are sincerely held, to discriminate against anyone," Burger said.

She said the arguments for the bill were the same as those who in the past opposed marriages of blacks and whites or Jews and Catholics.

State Rep. Charles Macheers, R-Overland Park, introduced the bill, saying it would "protect religious freedoms on both sides of the marriage debate." But Tom Witt, executive director of Kansas Equality, said the bill was a pre-emptive strike to "maintain discrimination" against gays and lesbians if Kansas' ban on same-sex marriage is ruled unconstitutional as similar bans have been struck down in Oklahoma and Utah.

A fiscal note on the bill said it would cost $275,000 through July 2015 to defend legal challenges that would arise from the measure. It also said the court system would have trouble with a provision in the bill that says courts must decide within 60 days whether the claimed protection applies.

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