The wrong move

Being from Kansas can sometimes have its ups and downs.

The ups come mostly in basketball season when my alma mater, The University of Kansas, does well at the Big Dance.

The downs, well, those are all about politics.

Growing up in Kansas in one of a very few Democratic families was challenging. Far before I even knew what politics meant, neighbor kids would tell me my parents were wrong when they’d put up yard signs for Democratic candidates.

But it took moving away from Kansas to really see how conservative Kansas is.

Never mind the antics of Kansans like Fred Phelps and his family at the Westboro Baptist Church in my hometown of Topeka. Having gone to school with the Phelps’ kids, and been in Topeka when their campaign of hate began, I soon realized that the world would see them as I did — crazies.

But the most recent action of the Kansas Legislature goes way beyond antics. What the Kansas House has done is just plain wrong.

The predominantly Republican Kansas House has passed legislation that allows individuals, groups and businesses to deny service to same-sex couples.

They claim this law protects religious freedoms. They say that anyone who doesn’t support same-sex couples because of religious reasons has the right not to serve gay couples. This includes state employees.

The State Senate sent the bill to committee for review.  It very likely could become law in Kansas.

It reads, in part: “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:

“Provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement.”

Within the law, there are some small concession to gay couples.

If an employee at a nonreligious or government business refuses to serve a gay or lesbian couple for religious reasons, the manager is obligated to find another employee who will oblige.

It also explicitly says that the law does not authorize discrimination against anyone, including clergy, who performs or supports same-sex unions.

This proposed law is wrong. We’ve come too far for this. Having grown up in the era when civil rights were extended to African Americans, this law, which allows discrimination based on sexual preference, is a step backward.

Claiming religious freedom is just a way to legitimize discrimination. You don’t have to agree with, or even like someone, to serve them, to do business with them, or to have them as a member of your club or group.

Having roots in Kansas, legislation such as this is embarrassing to me. It’s important to know that while they are the minority, there are residents in Kansas who, like me, think this action is wrong. Not all Kansans are conservative. Not all Kansans think like the Phelps.

Politics is politics. But the law is more. Every American should be treated the same under the law.

Here in Washington, we can be proud that the majority of us are more open minded.



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