Kansas Republican governor Sam Brownback, a longtime opponent of marriage equality, today issued an executive order that shields clergy members and religious organizations from being penalized by the state for such opposition.
Saying the Supreme Court's marriage equality decision has the potential to infringe on religious freedom, Brownback said the order "protects Kansas clergy and religious organizations from being forced to participate in activities that violate their sincerely and deeply held beliefs," The Topeka Capital-Journal reports.
"The order means that the state cannot take into account opposition to same-sex marriage when deciding whether to award grants or contracts with an organization, nor can it pull a group's license or accreditation," the paper notes. The order also means the state could not take away a church or organization's tax-exempt status.
The American Civil Liberties Union's Kansas affiliate called the order "unnecessary and harmful," the Capital-Journal reports. A statement issued by ACLU of Kansas director Micah Kubic noted, "A homeless shelter that received a state contract or grant could refuse family housing to a gay couple with a child, or a foster care agency could refuse to place a child in their custody with the child's family member just because the family member was in a same-sex relationship -- and the state could not require them to treat all families equally."
The LGBT rights group Equality Kansas may end up suing, director Tom Witt told the paper. "The plain language seems to suggest that religious organizations that have contracts to provide taxpayer-funded social services will be able to deny taxpayer-funded services to LGBT Kansans," he said. "We are still having this analyzed by our attorneys, but if this proves to be the case, the governor should be prepared to find himself on the losing end of more expensive litigation."
After a federal court struck down Kansas's ban on same-sex marriage last year, Brownback issued an order denying state recognition to such marriages. That meant, among other things, that people who take a same-sex spouse's name couldn't change their name on their driver's license, and that state employees couldn't get benefits for same-sex spouses. In issuing that order, Brownback contended there was "ambiguity" as to whether the court ruling applied statewide or only to certain counties.
But with that "ambiguity" lifted by the Supreme Court, Kansas state agencies this week began recognizing same-sex marriages for the purposes of driver's license name changes and spousal benefits, the Capital-Journal reports. The state is still working out procedures regarding the ability of married same-sex couples to file joint tax returns.
Kansas has moved more slowly in marriage recognition than other states, but Brownback defended the state's pace to the Associated Press last week, saying, "We want to make sure to do this right."
The ACLU of Kansas last year filed suit seeking same-sex marriage recognition by state agencies. It is still pending in federal court, and ACLU officials say that despite the arrival of nationwide marriage equality, a decision in the case is needed because of state leaders' "history of resistance" to such recognition, the Capital-Journal reports.