Opponents contend that a proposed Kansas state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage could eliminate health care and other benefits for unmarried couples, gay and straight, but some legislators are skeptical.
The house federal and state affairs committee continued hearings Wednesday on the proposed amendment, which also prohibits civil unions for gay couples and declares that the state recognizes only traditionally married couples as entitled to "rights and incidents" of marriage.
Opponents described the measure as discriminatory. They also attacked it as vague and therefore more far-reaching than a simple same-sex marriage ban.
Bill Dunn, a 44-year-old Wichita resident, and his male partner adopted three young children in California. Dunn stays at home with the children and receives health benefits through his partner's employer, SBC Corp. They moved to Kansas eight months ago and worry that his benefits and their adoptions are at risk under the proposed amendment. "We wonder how we can stay if this comes to fruition," he said during a break in the committee's hearing.
But several committee members who support the measure said critics are misreading it, that the amendment wouldn't apply to private companies offering benefits to gay--or heterosexual--employees' partners. "I still fail to see where the trepidation is, regarding private employers," said Rep. Bonnie Huy (R-Wichita).
Chairman John Edmonds (R-Great Bend) said the committee will debate the measure Thursday. The senate adopted the proposed amendment two weeks ago, and supporters hope legislators will put the measure on the ballot April 5, when Kansas holds city and school board elections. Legislators must finish work by February 11 for an April election.
College and high school students opposing the amendment plan to rally at noon Sunday at the statehouse. The house could debate the measure early next week.
On Tuesday, supporters argued that the amendment is necessary to protect Kansas's long-standing definition of marriage--in law since 1867--from legal challenges. They also said the amendment would protect families, and some suggested the measure would help check moral decay in society.
But Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka attorney, said the amendment would "stain our constitution" and noted that the Nazi government in Germany during the Second World War rounded up gays and lesbians. "What possible fear could we be acting on?" he said. "What have they done to you? Why this abuse? Why?"
Bruce Ney, a senior attorney for SBC in Kansas, said the amendment would force businesses offering domestic-partner benefits to reconsider. SBC offers such benefits for unmarried heterosexuals and homosexuals. When challenged by committee members, Ney, who said he was speaking for himself, said SBC requires employees seeking benefits for an unmarried partner to show proof of a partnership. Dunn and his partner registered their partnership in California.
Ney said Kansas wouldn't recognize such registered partnerships if the amendment passes, forcing SBC to consider changing its programs or canceling domestic-partner benefits. Still, the amendment's supporters were not persuaded.
"To say this will regulate what those private companies can do is ludicrous, and I think they know it," said the Reverend Joe Wright, senior pastor at Wichita's Central Christian Church. (AP)