HOUSE APPROVES: Does Kansas Law Legalize Discrimination?

By Lucas Grindley

Originally published on Advocate.com March 29 2012 12:19 PM ET

Kansas lawmakers voted overwhelmingly today to pass a bill that opponents say legalizes discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Members of both parties joined together in the House on the 89-27 vote, according to the Lawrence Journal-World. If the Senate follows suit and Governor Sam Brownback signs the bill, as he has indicted, then anyone could opt out of anti-discrimination laws that protect gays and lesbians by claiming they violate their "religious freedom."

For example, an employer could fire someone if they discovered the employee was gay. Or a landlord could kick a renter out of their home. The religious exemption extends past places of business to universities, where students or instructors could opt out of a school's anti-discrimination policy.

(UPDATE: She Lives in a Church? Antigay Kansas Legislator's Candidacy Challenged on Residency Grounds)

The idea for the bill, called the "Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act," came in reaction to the college town of Lawrence passing an anti-discrimination ordinance that included sexual orientation. The new state law would nullify that and any other local anti-discrimination ordinance that included sexual orientation by granting citizens the right to opt out if they felt it conflicted with their religious beliefs.

"I don't think an ordinance should trump other people's religious rights," said Rep. Jan Pauls, a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee that heard testimony about the bill. During a forum earlier this year, Pauls gave an example to explain why she backs the bill, saying an employer should be allowed to fire a "cross dresser."

"The question is personal belief as far as religion," she said. "Should that be trumped by forcing people to then support a lifestyle that they don't support due to their religion?"

"If this law were passed," Pauls explained, "people could bring up their religion as a reason that they did not want to follow the ordinances."