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Steve Brunk: Bill protects religious liberties

  • Published Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, at 12 a.m.

The Religious Freedom Act, House Bill 2453, has a very narrow purpose. It prevents government from taking punitive action against an individual or a religious entity based on a sincerely held religious belief “related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement.” It protects those on both sides of the marriage debate.

Additionally, if a government employee invokes these protections, HB 2453 dictates that the employer must “promptly” provide the service required. This assures that religious liberties are protected and that government services are performed for the customer on a nondiscriminatory basis.

Why is the Religious Freedom Act necessary? In numerous states, individuals and religious entities have been a legal target because of their objections to supporting or participating in same-sex weddings. Photographers, florists, cake bakers and other small businesses have seen their constitutionally protected religious freedoms stripped away.

Recently, federal judges have struck down the marriage laws in Utah and Oklahoma, in cases being reviewed by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Kansas’ marriage amendment is very much in the legal crosshairs. Kansas citizens have embedded the traditional form of marriage into our constitution. In anticipation of a time when the courts may impose their will over the citizens of Kansas, it becomes necessary now to enact protections for those citizens on both sides of the marriage debate as it relates to their sincerely held religious beliefs.

It is important to note that every state that has legislatively enacted same-sex marriage – from New York to Hawaii – has also enacted specific protections for religious liberties. Even progressive governors such as Andrew Cuomo of New York and Martin O’Malley of Maryland have signed into law legal protections for religious institutions as it relates to same-sex marriages. Kansas is acting consistently with those other states.

Opponents of the bill have falsely claimed that HB 2453 is a vehicle for discrimination. Their protestations are completely inaccurate. This bill rejects any right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in general commerce or in government services. This bill is about religious freedom in the context of court-ordered same-sex marriage. Nothing more, nothing less.

We understand that the culture is changing and the debate about same-sex marriage will continue in the courts and in statehouses across the country. While that debate unfolds, we must remain united in protecting religious liberties. HB 2453 does just that.

Steve Brunk is a Republican state representative from Wichita.

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