Assertions that the Kansas Department for Children and Families discriminates against gay and lesbian couples "are of personal concern," the new leader of the agency said Friday, promising zero tolerance for discrimination.
Acting DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel made a sharp break with her predecessor, Phyllis Gilmore, who had dismissed allegations of discrimination against same-sex couples in adoption and foster care cases.
State auditors released the results of a survey of attorneys who deal with the child welfare system about whether they think DCF discriminates. About 35 percent said gay and lesbian parents are not treated the same as other parents.
"I understand that former leadership was supportive of Kansas law and the Constitution regarding same-sex marriage," Meier-Hummel told a legislative committee reviewing the survey.
"That being said I want the committee to know that I recognize the law changed in June 2015," she said, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. "Moving forward, I will have zero tolerance for any violations of the law."
The survey found that 23 percent of attorneys thought DCF treated same-sex couples the same as others. Forty-one percent said they had no opinion.
"Although the survey results…could be interpreted by some as confirming there was no culture of discrimination by the Kansas Department for Children and Families in this area, any responses in the audit that suggest the possibility otherwise are of personal concern to me as acting secretary," Meier-Hummel said.
In 2015, DCF came under scrutiny after multiple allegations that it discriminated against same-sex couples. A Johnson County judge in a sealed 2013 court order also said DCF had showed more concern about sexual orientation than the best interest of a child.
The agency fought the allegations, but Gilmore also said at the time that the "preferred (situation) is every child to have a mom and a dad" if possible.
Rep. Jarrod Ousley, a Merriam Democrat who requested the survey, said DCF responded better on Friday than it had to past reports.
"Her response is certainly more professional and accepting than their response given before," Ousley said.
Tom Witt, director of Equality Kansas, said the survey confirmed the organization’s belief that discrimination had taken place. He said Meier-Hummel’s response was a positive development, but called for a full audit of the agency’s treatment of same-sex couples.
Meier-Hummel became acting secretary at the start of December. Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer made the selection; he is expected to become governor if Gov. Sam Brownback leaves for a diplomatic post.