Gay rights advocates rally at Statehouse

By: Phil White Email
By: Phil White Email

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TOPEKA, Kan. -- The bill may be considered dead by some legislators, but the fight over a controversial religious freedom bill goes on.

Opponents of House Bill 2453 rallied at the Statehouse Tuesday, saying they want lawmakers to know, even if the bill has gone away, they have not.

The bill passed the House of Representatives 72-49 earlier this month and the Senate does not plan to touch it this session.

Those rallying Tuesday said they were outraged the bill came up at all. They were quick to point out state lawmakers took up a bill some believe encourages discrimination just ahead of the 60-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made school segregation illegal.

"How dare the people in Topeka, Kansas, 60 years after Brown versus the Board of Education, argue that religion exclusionists have a right to exclude human beings from equality," said Rabbi Mark Levin of Overland Park's Congregation Beth Torah.

Those who support the bill say it protects the religious freedom of business owners and employees who decline to provide services to marriages that violate their religious beliefs.

However, some religious leaders say the violates their beliefs.

"Jesus was only critical and condemning of oppressive civil governments of his day and the oppressive actions of some of the religious leaders of his day," said Rev. Kent Little of Wichita's College Hill United Methodist Church. "Other than that, he welcomed all."

A legislator said his faith is why he opposed the bill.

"I'm a person of faith and I have to say, it's my faith that compels me to believe what I believe and believe that public policy that discriminates against a group of people is wrong," said Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence. "And I want you to know that I believe in a God who is still speaking and a God that, no matter who you are, who you love, where you are in your journey in life, that you are loved by God no matter what."

A Libertarian candidate for Governor believes the bill is unconstitutional and would do nothing to protect religious rights.

"As an attorney, I of course immediately look at the Constitutional issue and this is well-settled law," said Keen Umbehr.

Umbehr said the U.S. Supreme Court would likely strike the bill down because it does not have a secular purpose, it favors religion and it allows the government to be too involved with religion. However, Umbehr said he does support the protection of religious rights.

"I understand their argument, surely I do, but this legislation isn't the vehicle to get there," he said.

Others worry any such law could lead to using religion to take away the rights of others.

"It's a slippery slope, you know," said Mari Murphy of Mission. "You discriminate against one group and it becomes easier to discriminate against anyone."

In support of the bill, Wichita-based Kansans for Liberty has launched a phone and e-mail campaign. They have been calling House members to thank them for voting for the bill and Senators to encourage them to bring it to a vote.

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