Politics & Government

LGBT advocates ask lawmakers to roll back laws they say discriminate

Hundreds of people came to the Statehouse for a protest on the governor’s actions against the LGBT community in 2015.
Hundreds of people came to the Statehouse for a protest on the governor’s actions against the LGBT community in 2015. File photo

The state’s leading LGBT rights organization is asking Kansas lawmakers to repeal a series of laws it says are discriminatory, including one that led California to ban state-funded travel to Kansas.

Tom Witt, the executive director of Equality Kansas, has submitted bills to a number of legislative committees to eliminate an amendment to the Kansas Constitution that prohibits same-sex marriage, to repeal the state’s anti-sodomy law and to roll back a law that enables campus religious groups to exclude members who don’t adhere to religious standards.

“All of the things that tell the rest of the nation that Kansas discriminates, we want to repeal every last bit of that,” Witt said.

That includes repealing the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which can no longer be enforced after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage in 2015.

“We don’t want to leave something on the books that can be used to actively discriminate against people,” Witt said.

HCR 5006 would repeal the constitutional ban, which was passed by Kansas voters as an amendment in 2005, and HB 2172 would officially recognize same-sex marriages under Kansas law.

Eric Teetsel, the president of the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, criticized the repeal effort.

“We won’t allow that to happen,” Teetsel, Gov. Sam Brownback’s son-in-law, said in a statement. “Kansans voted overwhelmingly to affirm marriage in the state Constitution. Our laws will and should continue to reflect the will of the people.”

The U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2003 that a Texas law prohibiting sexual activity by persons of the same gender was unconstitutional, invalidating anti-sodomy laws in Kansas and 12 other states. However, Witt said that the law still technically remains on the books in Kansas. HB 2215 would officially take this prohibition out of Kansas law.

“It is still technically a crime in Kansas for lesbian and gay people to have intimate relations with each other,” he said. “We’d like to repeal that.”

Witt also wants to repeal a campus religious freedom law, which took effect in July. California banned state-funded travel to Kansas last month, citing this law as the reason.

California passed a law in 2016 forbidding the use of taxpayer money for travel to states with anti-LGBT laws on the books. The other three states affected by the ban are North Carolina, Mississippi and Tennessee.

California’s decision to include Kansas on the list puts in doubt whether sports teams from that state’s public universities will travel to Kansas in the coming years.

The Kansas law doesn’t specifically mention sexual orientation, but it blocks public universities from taking punitive action against campus faith groups that enforce religious standards.

Critics say this enables discrimination on publicly funded campuses, but supporters say that it ensures that religious groups have the freedom to practice the tenets of their faiths.

"It was clear from statements that were made by the backers of the bill that it was targeted at the LGBT community," Witt said.

SB 139 would repeal the law.

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth, who introduced the campus religious freedom law, said that it was a mistake to lump in that law with the others that Witt wants to repeal. He said that Witt should offer a bill to protect the rights of secular groups instead of a bill to remove the protection for religions groups.

“If the gay, lesbian, transgender – what else do they got now? – confused, fluid gender group … wants to have an on-campus thing, (does) he want it that any number of Southern Baptists can join and take over the group? Is that what he wants?” Fitzgerald said.

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3

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