I’m not in Kansas anymore either, although I have traveled through the state a handful of times and even stayed overnight a time or two. But I did take the time to read Kansas House Bill 2453, and it’s not at all as Mr. Hanrahan characterized it in his Feb. 23, op-ed. The bill is a pretty short read at just under 2 ½ pages of large print and can be found easily with an internet search. The bill does not sanction the willy-nilly denial of “services to gays and lesbians simply based on that designation” as Mr. Hanrahan contends. The title of the bill pretty much says it all: AN ACT concerning religious freedoms with respect to marriage. Here is Section 1 in its entirety:
Section 1. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no individual or religious entity shall be required by any governmental entity to do any of the following, if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender: (a) Provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement; (b) solemnize any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement; or (c) treat any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement as valid.
Mr. Hanrahan argues that the legislature was “pandering to a small, yet vocal minority of voters... so they could later claim the high ground with the extreme religious right.” The Kansas Constitution was amended in 2005 with the approval of 70% (scarcely a minority) of the voters to acknowledge that “Marriage shall be constituted by one man and one woman only.” 70% hardly sounds like an extreme faction of any group. Texas voters approved a similar amendment that same year with a 76% majority. But, of course, everyone knows that 76% of Texans are members of the extreme religious right. Even California, that last bastion of redneck conservatism, passed Proposition 8 by public referendum to amend their constitution as recently as 2008, only to have it overturned by judicial fiat.
And here’s where the rub comes in. It is not hard these days to find an activist judge somewhere who is willing to overturn a duly constituted law with which he disagrees. Indeed, it has become fashionable. Virginia’s Marriage Amendment, passed in 2012, was just recently overturned by a federal judge ? who stated in the first paragraph of her opinion that “Our Constitution declares that ‘all men’ are created equal.” Umm, no, Judge Wright Allen, that was the Declaration of Independence, but why should historical inaccuracies matter in a federal judge’s opinion as long as her heart is in the right place? And Virginia’s Democratic attorney general, who previously had campaigned in support of the amendment when he was hoping to get elected, now refuses to defend the law or appeal the decision. These are not isolated incidents (think of Nevada, Utah, Kentucky, California, ad nauseum). Kansas is not unwise in preparing for such a possibility.
The editor laments the “legislated discrimination” of HB 2453 and doesn’t “buy the religious freedom argument, either.” Fortunately, religious freedom is not for sale but is enshrined in the 1st Amendment of our federal Constitution, which forbids “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Religious freedom is not about being “free to think and believe as we wish” ? to which Mr. Hanrahan looks to NM Supreme Court Justice Richard Bosson for support. On the contrary, it’s about the “exercise” of those religious beliefs. Our editor went so far as to quote with approbation the esteemed NM jurist’s opinion that the public accommodation of differing beliefs is “the price of citizenship” ? unless, of course, those differing beliefs happen to be rooted in Biblical Christianity.
The overwhelming majority of Christians I know ? and I know a bunch of them ? would never consider refusing a commercial transaction with or, yes, even an act of unsolicited kindness toward someone with whose sexual conduct they disagreed?including, but not limited to, homosexual conduct. For, whether in this area or another, we are all in need of God’s grace. But most of them will balk at being compelled by governmental force to participate in or endorse or support in any way a union which violates their most fundamental, deeply held religious convictions. Kansas HB 2453 was written to protect just those kinds of folk.