By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World
TOPEKA — The Kansas House on Wednesday approved a bill that says people can cite religious beliefs to deny to same-sex couples goods, services, accommodations or employment benefits.
House Bill 2453 was approved 72-49 and will now go to the Senate for consideration.
The Douglas County delegation, three Democrats and one Republican, voted against the bill.
Supporters of the measure said it would protect from lawsuits and government action individuals who refuse to provide services to same-sex couples because they believe homosexuality is morally wrong.
They said these peoples’ religious rights are being trampled by recent court decisions striking down other states’ bans on same-sex marriages.
“It’s just a protective measure to ensure the religious liberties we already have will stay in place the same no matter what happens in the future,” said Rep. Charles Macheers, R-Overland Park.
Gay-rights advocates said the bill would allow widespread discrimination against gays and lesbians that would be equivalent to the days when blacks or inter-racial couples were denied equal treatment.
During final action on the bill, several legislators read statements opposed to the bill.
“It is my deeply held, sincere religious beliefs that the commandment to love one another is contradicted by this legislation. This bill expressly permits discrimination against my neighbor in the name of religious freedom,” said state Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan.
Support for the bill came almost entirely from Republicans, with only one Democrat, state Rep. Jan Pauls of Hutchinson, voting for it.
On Tuesday, House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, who is running for governor, issued a statement criticizing the bill, saying it has nothing to do with problems facing the state, such as school cuts, lagging job creation, and increasing property taxes.
“Every day we spend on issues like this is one day less this Legislature and governor has to tackle the real, growing crises at hand,” Davis said.
Equality Kansas, the state’s leading gay-rights advocacy organization, criticized Davis for not addressing the substance of the bill.
“It’s unfortunate that discrimination against LGBT Kansans is seen as a distraction for the Democratic leadership, rather than a call to action,” said Sandra Meade, state chair of Equality Kansas.
Meade said the bill would treat legal marriages as invalid. “HB 2453 is a blatant attempt to maintain second class citizen status for tax paying gay and lesbian Kansans,” she said.