In Shawnee County, Kan., home of the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church and its antigay pastor, Fred Phelps, commissioners on Monday unanimously approved a ban on discrimination in county employment based on sexual orientation. The commission heard more than an hour of testimony from people on both sides of the issue, including accusations from opponents that the ban would create a protected class for gays and lesbians. Commission chairman Vic Miller said he decided to introduce the policy after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out state sodomy laws such as one on the books in Kansas. He said he had been reluctant to introduce the matter while the state had a law making gay sex illegal, even in the privacy of the home. Miller said there was a misunderstanding about the extent of the county resolution, which he said carried much less weight than a similar-sounding measure the Topeka city council debated last year.
There was no official response from Phelps or his followers after approval of the policy. But in a letter to commissioners prior to its passage, Phelps said, "Homosexuals are not a legitimate class either needing or deserving such protection. They define themselves only by their deviant sexual conduct."