TOPEKA — Efforts to repeal a Kansas law that criminalizes homosexual sex have been blocked by a legislative committee even though the law has been ruled unconstitutional and isn't being enforced.
The House Judiciary Committee was considering legislation designed to clean up language in the state's criminal code when the panel's top Republican and Democrat removed a provision that would have repealed the law.
Rep. Jan Pauls, D-Hutchinson, made a motion this week to delete the repeal, and the motion was seconded by Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe. Both lawmakers said it seemed unnecessary since the law wasn't being enforced.
Pauls expressed concern that some lawmakers might reject the entire bill if the repeal was included. She said the issue could be addressed in a bill in the Senate that would decriminalize sodomy between people age 16 or older who are of the same sex.
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But a Legislative Research staff member said the Senate bill is "languishing" in a Senate committee and isn't on its way to a full vote in either chamber, although that could change before lawmakers adjourn in the spring.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that state laws criminalizing homosexual sex were not enforceable. But Kansas lawmakers must vote to actually remove the law from statute books.
Kansas' law sends a harsh message to homosexual couples living in the state, said Thomas Witt, chairman of the Kansas Equity Coalition, which works to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Witt wants House leadership to remove Kinzer as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and Pauls as its ranking Democrat.
Kinzer, calling the issue a "tempest in a teapot," said the law isn't being enforced and homosexuals are not being threatened with arrest.
"I don't think it would make any difference," Kinzer said. "The statute is unenforceable."
Pauls agreed that a repeal was unnecessary, saying House members unhappy with the committee's version of the bill could offer amendments on the House floor.
Pauls also said she was concerned that some lawmakers might have voted to reject the entire criminal codes bill if the repeal was included, and she didn't want to take that risk.
Jon Powell, chair of the Hutchinson chapter of the Kansas Equality Coalition, said gays and lesbians in Pauls' district won't be "bullied" by legislators who won't defend the Kansas Constitution.
"Jan Pauls was trusted to be a judge before becoming a state representative and should know better than to support unconstitutional laws," Powell said.
He said his chapter of the organization will demonstrate Thursday in downtown Hutchinson in opposition to Pauls' position.