Controversial Kansas anti-gay bill killed in committee

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Kansas’ controversial House Bill 2453, which would have allowed any business or government employee to legally discriminate against same-sex couples, has been killed by the Senate Judiciary committee assigned to review it.

The announcement on February 18 by Committee Chairman Jeff King was good news for LGBT advocates, but it’s likely to take more than that to end the legal debate over whether religious protections should extend to allowing people to refuse service to people due to their “sex or gender.” King, a Republican from Independence, said he still intends to hold hearings regarding religious liberty issues in advance of any possible striking down of the state’s ban on marriage equality.

The text of the bill, which passed the state House on February 12, states that “No individual or religious entity shall be required by any governmental entity to do any of the following, if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender.”

Under that vague wording, not only would businesses and employees have been able to use their religious beliefs to refuse service to someone based on their sexual identity, but they would also be allowed to discriminate based on gender, which could have adverse effects on women in the workplace.

Proponents of the bill said it was intended only to prevent wedding vendors such as bakers and florists from being sanctioned for refusing to participate in same-sex unions, religious institutions from having to allow their space or staff to be used, and adoption agencies from being required to work with LGBT people. Critics denounced it for being considerably broader than claimed and said that it would only encourage discrimination.

Some members of the Senate had already said they wouldn’t pass the bill, but King said on February 18 that they weren’t even going to consider it; he told press, “We’re not working House Bill 2453.” Though he added that he isn’t working on a more specific revision, he intends to hold hearings where national experts will discuss if Kansas is in need of such a law; he explained, “Something new would have to arise out of these hearings.”

The executive director of Equality Kansas, Tom Witt, said in a statement on February 13, “Equality Kansas proposed amendments in the House that we believe would have made the bill more acceptable, and…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.”

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