The Kansas state House advanced a bill on Tuesday aimed at granting public and private employees the right to deny services, including unemployment benefits and foster care, to same-sex couples on the basis of religious freedom.
Largely backed by Republican state lawmakers in response to recent rulings in favor of marriage equality in neighboring states, House Bill 2453 passed an initial vote by a 72-42 margin. A final House vote is set for Wednesday, after which the bill will head to the Republican-controlled Senate.
State Rep. Charles Macheers (R), one of the bill’s staunchest advocates, argued that the provision was designed to prevent discrimination against religious individuals during a speech on the House floor Tuesday.
"Discrimination is horrible. It’s hurtful … It has no place in civilized society, and that’s precisely why we’re moving this bill," Macheers said. "There have been times throughout history where people have been persecuted for their religious beliefs because they were unpopular. This bill provides a shield of protection for that."
While government agencies would still be mandated to render services to Kansans, individual clerks would be empowered to refuse assistance to individuals that violated their religious beliefs on marriage.
"To me it really talks to the fact that an employer or even a governmental entity ... could not provide services," Kansas state lawmaker Emily Perry (D-Mission) said on HuffPost Live Tuesday. Perry warned of a situation in which a police officer arriving at the scene of a domestic violence dispute between a gay couple could potentially endanger the complainant by refusing protective services.
"My issue with that, is in domestic violence situations, minutes and seconds make the difference between life and death," Perry explained. "We don't want these public servants to be able to arrive at the scene of the crime, and decide that because of their religious beliefs, they don't want to offer services."
Breaking from her party’s overwhelming support for the bill, state Rep. Barbara Bollier (R) also voiced concern over the legislation’s implications.
"I do not believe it is ever on the right side of history to be allowed to discriminate against people," Bollier said Tuesday, according to the Kansas City Star. "Enough said."
"Kansas would be the first state to legalize discrimination on the part of employees -- government employees," Holly Weatherford, spokeswoman for the Kansas chapter of the ACLU, told the Kansas City Star on Tuesday.
Days before the Kansas legislature’s debate over House Bill 2453, Attorney General Eric Holder officially announced a new set of federal benefit expansions to same-sex couples in legally recognized marriages. The Obama administration’s new policy came after the Supreme Court's ruling in June that invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act’s federal ban on same-sex marriage.
"In every courthouse, in every proceeding and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States, they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law," Holder told the Human Rights Campaign on Saturday.