Kansas Senate Refuses to Consider 'Religious Liberty' Bill for Gay Marriage

A religious liberty bill seeking to protect businesses from providing services to same-sex marriage couples based on religious grounds will not be considered by Kansas' Senate Judiciary Committee, the Senate vice president announced Tuesday.

After House Bill 2453 passed the House, Senate Vice President Jeff King (R-Independence) announced that the Senate would not be considering the bill, saying briefly that the bill was "kaput." King went on to assure concerned Kansas residents that religious exemptions regarding same-sex marriage will be addressed next month during Senate hearings.

The purpose of House Bill 2453 was to protect small business owners from lawsuits, should they refuse to service a same-sex marriage based on their religious beliefs. The bill also went a step further in protecting both private and public employees from providing their services based on religious grounds.

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House Bill 2453 received a rash of criticism via social media by opponents who described its text as expansive and vague, arguing that the bill's policy of protecting both public and private employees would result in easy discrimination against any same-sex couple seeking to marry. Additionally, opponents of the bill argued that the legislation's text could be interpreted as being applied to marriages in general.

Those supporting the bill argued in response that although the legislation was vilified as being discriminatory and ultimately killed, it is still necessary for legislators in the state to pursue protection of religious liberty as the possibility of same-sex marriage legalization looms in the future.

When the bill first passed the House Committee, Gov. Sam Brownback said he was a "strong proponent and supporter for religious liberty." On Monday, when some lawmakers began to question if they should move House Bill 2453 forward due to national criticism, Brownback's office released a statement to The Kansas City Star saying Americans have constitutional rights to religious liberty. Brownback's office did not specifically reference the legislation being debated.

"Americans have Constitutional rights, among them the right to exercise their religious beliefs and the right for every human life to be treated with respect and dignity," the office stated.

State Rep. Lance Kinzer of Olathe, who supported the bill, told The Kansas City Star that the bill was never intended to allow discrimination based on sexual orientation, but was rather intended to ensure the religious liberties of all Kansans. Kinzer added he was open to modifying the bill's language to include a clause prohibiting discrimination if it meant it could be passed in the Senate.

House Bill 2453 was created in response to the growing number of federal court rulings overturning state same-sex marriage bans. Kansas has a constitutional amendment from 2005 prohibiting same-sex marriage, but currently the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Kansas, is hearing two cases regarding same-sex marriage bans in Oklahoma and Utah. The ruling of the court could affect Kansas' current laws on gay marriage.

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