By Trudy Ring
Originally published on Advocate.com February 14 2014 3:26 PM ET
A “license to discriminate” bill passed by the Kansas House of Representatives this week is unlikely to get through the State Senate in its present form, says Senate president Susan Wagle.
Wagle told The Wichita Eagle Thursday that she has “grown concerned about the practical impact of the bill,” which would allow individuals, owners, and employees of both private businesses and government entities to refuse to provide wedding-related services if the wedding violates their religious beliefs.
The bill does not directly mention same-sex couples, but it instead “refers to religious views on marriage ‘regarding sex or gender,’” the Eagle reports. Critics of the bill say, for instance, that if a business owner believes, based on religion, that women should not work outside the home, the business could deny services to an opposite-sex couple if the woman works full-time. They also say the legislation could provide cover for a business to deny benefits to an employee’s same-sex spouse if same-sex marriage were legalized in Kansas.
The bill is in response to lawsuits in other states over businesses’ refusal to provide services for same-sex weddings. The Kansas House approved it by a vote of 72-49 Wednesday.
“A strong majority of my members support laws that define traditional marriage, protect religious institutions, and protect individuals from being forced to violate their personal moral values,” said Wagle, a Republican. “However, my members also don’t condone discrimination. If we cannot find ample common ground to ease legitimate concerns, I believe a majority of my caucus will not support the bill.”
Rep. Charles Macheers, who introduced the measure, defended its wording. “The bill is designed to limit the amount of litigation,” he told the Eagle. “It brings specificity and clarifies issues that are narrowly tailored to be relevant to the marriage ceremony.” The paper notes that he did not write the bill; the wording came from the American Religious Freedom Program, based in Washington, D.C.
Equality Kansas, a statewide LGBT rights group, praised Wagle for raising concerns about the legislation. If senators decide to amend the bill, “we look forward to working with them to draft language that will protect the religious liberties of all Kansans, while at the same time ensuring the dignity of gay and lesbian couples across the state,” Equality Kansas spokesman Thomas Witt told the Eagle.