Controversial legislation in Kansas that would allow both private-sector and government employees to refuse service to same-sex couples if it would be “contrary to sincerely held religious beliefs” is now “dead,” a top lawmaker said Tuesday.
“We will not be considering this bill,” said state Sen. Jeff King, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “We are certainly strong proponents of religious liberties, but we have grave concerns about the language of [the bill].” Any measure that addresses religious liberty, King said, needs “to have a razor-sharp focus to protect religious liberties without discriminating against any group whatsoever. … I would rather have a bill that is very narrowly focused on protecting religious liberties, so it can put any question of a negative effect to rest.
“It’s dead,” King added.
King’s comments effectively kill, at least for now, a bill passed by the state House last week. Critics of the bill, which would have protected those who refused service from lawsuits, worried that it allowed for discrimination not just against same-sex couples but possibly gay and lesbian individuals. Though much of the discussion in House hearings was in the context of providing a service related to a same-sex wedding—like baking a cake for the reception or being the clerk who signed a marriage license—the language explicitly allowed for private or public employees to refuse adoption service, employment benefits or to otherwise treat any marriage they opposed for religious reasons “as valid.”
Civil liberties and gay rights groups have been outspoken about what they called the dangers of the bill and its potential to allow for open discrimination against people based on sexual orientation. Like almost 30 other states, Kansas does not have a law on the books explicitly protecting individuals from discrimination based on their sexual orientation.
When asked whether Kansas should have such a law, King said that “I don’t have any comment on that. That’s not any of the issues that were addressed here.” King said the legislature will hold hearings to examine if current state laws promoting religious liberty lack any necessary protections.