I’m not usually active on Yelp but I can guarantee you that the next time I go to Kansas, I will be posting reviews left and right. Specifically, I’ll be taking note of which restaurants jump onto the latest anti-gay legislative bandwagon: the right to refuse service to same-sex couples. Takes reservations? Yes. Good for lunch? Yes. Homophobic? It’s looking that way.
Passed by the state’s right-leaning House of Representatives on Wednesday with a vote of 72-49, Bill 2453 explicitly “protects” individuals, groups, and businesses that wish to refuse their services to same-sex couples upon religious grounds — particularly the belief that only heterosexual men and women should be allowed to wed. It now awaits confirmation in the Senate.
Entitled “An act concerning religious freedoms with respect to marriage, “ the bill 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.”
As a result, Kansas will be the first state, though presumably not the last, to legalize segregation of gay and straight people in essentially every area of life.
In a state where gay marriage is already banned, such a measure may seem redundant and even extreme. But if there’s one demographic we can always count on for redundancy and extremism, it’s Republican lawmakers in the Midwest. So, now an LGBT individuals whose committed relationship aren’t recognized by the state won’t even be able to sue the close-minded sandwich shop owner who won’t press their paninis. Or the public school who won’t hire them as teachers. Or the bar venue who won’t rent them a space for their rehearsal dinner.
It’s another classic case of “My Rights Are More Important Than Yours.” The bill claims to protect the rights of Kansas’s religious inhabitants, but why must it be at the expense of the state’s LGBT population? Groups like Equality Kansas are scratching their heads over this very question.
“Kansans across the state are rightly appalled that legislators are spending their efforts to pass yet another piece of legislation that seeks to enshrine discrimination against gay and lesbian people into law,” state chairwoman Sandra Meade said. “HB 2453 is a blatant attempt to maintain second-class citizen status for taxpaying gay and lesbian Kansans.”
Despite protests from the state’s more liberal-leaning factions, the bill seems well-positioned to pass into law: the Senate is as right-dominated as the House, and Republican Governor Sam Brownback is always eager to demonstrate his conservative, Christian, “pro-family” creds. In an interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal, Brownback declared, “Americans have constitutional rights, among them the right to exercise their religious beliefs and the right for every human life to be treated with respect and dignity.” The sub-human subtext doesn’t even deserve to be dignified with commentary.
But don’t lose all hope yet: the bill does contain two (tiny) concessions to the state’s LGBT community. First, a manager at a non-religious or government business must find an employee to serve a same-sex couple if their other employees aren’t willing. Second, the bill explicitly states that it does not authorize discrimination against anyone, including clergy members, who performs or supports same-sex unions.
These small “niceties” aside, this bill is only one small victory for anti-gay advocates amidst a sea change of increasing sociopolitical support for LGBT rights. Same-sex marriage has recently been legalized in many parts of the United States, bringing the total tally of gay-friendly states to 17 (plus the the District of Columbia).
For a state in a region already suffering from a diaspora of its young, entrepreneurial, and educated, Kansas shouldn’t be so ready and willing to alienate any of its populace who have stuck around and continue to pay their taxes. In the meantime, I invite the good LGBT people of Kansas to make their way out to California and leave a trail of witty one-star reviews in their wake.
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