A Kansas bill to protect the conscience rights of those who morally object to “gay marriage” stalled in the legislature after opponents portrayed it as a discrimination law akin to the Jim Crow laws of the early 20th century.
“Protecting religious liberty and the rights of conscience does not infringe on anyone’s sexual freedoms,” said Ryan Anderson, pro-family scholar and co-author of “What is Marriage: Man, Woman, a Defense,” in a Feb. 19 article for National Review Online.
“Americans are free to live and love how they choose, but they should not use government to penalize those who think and act differently,” Anderson argued. “All Americans should be free to believe and act in the public square based on their beliefs about marriage as the union of a man and woman without fear of government penalty.”
The bill sought to ensure conscience protections for individuals, businesses and officials who believed that affirming same-sex “marriage” ceremonies or unions “would be contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
It would have offered protection to florists, photographers, wedding vendors, adoption agencies, counseling services and other groups with deeply held religious convictions over the nature of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman. These individuals and organizations would have been able to decline participation in same-sex wedding ceremonies, receptions and adoptions without fear of legal action.
The bill was proposed in response to numerous lawsuits across the country facing organizations that declined to support same-sex unions for reasons of conscience. However, after passing the state House of Representatives, it died in the state Senate when leaders refused to let it move forward in committee.
Opponents of the bill had adamantly argued against it, claiming that extending religious conscience rights to all individuals involved in weddings would be “essentially arguing for homosexual Jim Crow laws.”
Columnist Kristen Powers argued in a Feb. 19 article for USA Today that wedding vendors are not “celebrating their wedding union” but instead hired to “provide a service.”
“It's not clear why some Christian vendors are so confused about their role here,” Powers said, charging that “Christianity doesn't prohibit serving a gay couple getting married,” and likening the bill to the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial discrimination in the southern United States before the Civil Rights movement.
Mark Joseph Stern of Slate also objected to the bill in a Feb. 13 article, calling it “anti-gay segregation” and suggesting that it meant that private “employers can continue to fire gay employees on account of their sexuality,” that stores “may deny gay couples goods and services because they are gay” and that businesses that “provide public accommodations – movie theaters, restaurants – can turn away gay couples at the door.”
The Kansas Catholic Conference had worked to reject these claims, arguing that “a campaign of distortion” was being waged to discredit the bill.
Citing the text of the actual legislation, the Catholic Conference clarified that the bill would not permit businesses to discriminate based upon sexual orientation.
“The bill does not create a right for businesses to refuse service to someone just because they are gay,” the conference stressed. Rather, it explained, the proposed legislation covers “a narrow range of conduct” dealing only with the recognition of and participation in same-sex “marriages.”
Anderson reiterated that the bill is not discriminatory, but instead prevents “the kind of coercion that happened under Jim Crow” by protecting “what should be already protected: basic civil liberties such as freedom of association, freedom of contract, and freedom of religion.”
He clarified that the bill “would only protect religious individuals and organizations from being forced to provide services related to marriage” and its celebration, and “would not allow businesses, individuals, or government employees from refusing to serve someone (or a couple) simply because of his or her sexual orientation.”
Furthermore, quoting First Lady Michelle Obama, he said that our “faith journey isn’t just about showing up on Sunday for a good sermon and good music and a good meal. It’s about what we do Monday through Saturday as well.” For many people, Anderson explained, “being a wedding photographer is not simply being “a vendor,” but utilizing God-given talents to tell the story of a particular couple and their relationship.
“It is understandable why some religious believers would not want the government coercing them into doing that,” he said, adding that the government “shouldn’t enshrine” one view of wedding participation “into law and then coerce those who have a different understanding of what their faith requires.”