Religious freedom bill meets resistance

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TOPEKA, Kan. — When Kansas lawmakers started session in January, the governor, Senate President and Speaker of the House were all asked to support a bill protecting religious freedom. They all committed to it, but some are now changing their minds.

“This bill is rather controversial,” Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) said.

Bill 2453 would prevent individuals or organizations from getting sued for not providing goods or services to same-sex couples on religious grounds. It passed the Kansas House 72 to 49 and is now across the hall in the Senate.

Sen. Wagle now opposes the bill mainly because of the provision that if an employee refuses to provide service, the employer must find another employee who will.

“My daughters, when they married, the lady that baked their wedding cake operated a business out of her home and she was one of the best in the city. She did a great job and she wouldn’t have the ability to replace herself if she chose not to serve a wedding that she didn’t feel comfortable with,” Sen. Wagle said.

The bill also includes government employees.

“And there was a question about whether or not a policeman or a fireman could opt out of providing services, when really most of us believe public servants should serve everyone,” Sen. Wagle said.

Speaker of the House Ray Merrick (R-Stillwell) defended his chamber against some backlash.

“How many bills do we deal with in a year’s time and to say that we got one hiccup so, therefore, we don’t know what we are doing?” Rep. Merrick said.

Rep. Merrick admitted that he didn’t understand all of the legalese in the house bill and the way he interpreted it was narrow in focus. He said in hindsight, he’d probably inhibit the bill from passage.

“Yes, they would have to pull it out of committee. I wouldn’t put it up,” Rep. Merrick said.

This whole debate seems unnecessary to some due to a constitutional amendment passed in 2005. The amendment stipulates that Kansas does not recognize same-sex marriage. But speculation is that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals may throw out that Kansas amendment which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Some say that would open the door for same-sex marriage in the state, making this debate viable.



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