JENEÉ OSTERHELDT

Weed out bigotry in the Sunflower State

Updated: 2014-04-05T23:30:40Z

By JENEÉ OSTERHELDT

The Kansas City Star

I want to thank the Kansas Senate for tapping the brakes on that deplorable anti-gay bill. But we’re not finished yet. This is just one fight, honey. We’re knee-deep in war.

Look around. This isn’t just a Kansas thing. Change is happening in states where people are willing to take the stand. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in Missouri this week seeking recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages. A federal judge did just that in Kentucky on Wednesday.

In Louisiana, Nevada and Texas, people are challenging anti-gay laws. And in my home state of Virginia, a federal judge did one better and just struck down the state’s gay marriage ban.

Topeka was headed in a reckless direction.

“This is the heartland? More like heartless land,” says Cecelia Baty of Overland Park, whose son is gay. “Gay is not a lifestyle choice. My son was born this way. God made him this way. There is no logic in putting blinders on. I think it’s going to take federal judges that are strong enough to stand up for equal rights.”

Yes, this fight is ongoing. It doesn’t stop with Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle taking a brave step and speaking out against the behavior of her own Republican Party members. Their bill had a lot of traction — we’re talking a 72-49 vote in the Kansas House to make it perfectly legal to use your religion as a weapon against humanity. The proposal would have allowed people to refuse to provide services for gay couples on religious grounds. Something as simple as flowers for a wedding or a rehearsal dinner at a restaurant, to essential parts of life where there are no other options.

Government workers could use their personal beliefs to prevent an adoption or any social services. This kind of hate opens the doors for old-school segregation and dehumanization. What’s next? A push for heterosexual-only bathrooms?

We haven’t heard the last of this bill. Negotiations are on the table. There is already talk of rewording things to eliminate any hint of discrimination. Because, you know, Rep. Charles Macheers, R-Shawnee, said on the House floor that his bill is anti-discrimination.

“Discrimination is horrible. It’s hurtful. … It has no place in civilized society, and that’s precisely why we’re moving this bill,” he 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.”

Don’t trust someone who is that misguided. This is the same kind of thinking that would have prevented my parents from getting married back when interracial love was illegal. And it’s less than “separate but equal.” It’s a desire to stamp out homosexuality and treat same-sex couples as invisible. It’s disgusting that anyone would try to discriminate in the name of God.

As Baty says, “religion doesn’t support discrimination.”

Trae Smith says he will move out of Kansas should this bill find a way to go any further. He owns a salon and understands the right to refuse business, but not based on sexual orientation, race and the like. When people walk in to get their hair done, he doesn’t ask them about their bedroom, their ethnicity, their voting ballots or their church.

“It’s shameful to deny compassion over something beyond your control,” he says. “If I were starving and came into your restaurant, would you turn me out in the cold because I’m gay? That goes against everything in the Bible. Does the Bible not say love thy neighbor? You don’t have to agree with me, but you don’t have to demean me either. I’m a person with feelings, just like you.

“If people spent more time educating themselves and learning about other people rather than living in a secluded bubble filled with hate and fear, they could experience compassion. They could make a positive difference. They are hurting themselves, because the world will go on without them.”

My hope is that the world will go on in the right direction. Legal discrimination is dangerous to the very freedoms our country is founded on. We will move past this if we we stand strong and together. This is not a fight between Republicans and Democrats or Christians and non-Christians. It’s not even gay against straight.

It’s a fight for humanity. Equal rights are for everybody. It’s non-negotiable.

Jeneé Osterheldt’s column runs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. To reach her, call 816-234-4380 or send email to josterheldt@kcstar.com. “Like” her page on Facebook and never miss a column. You also can follow her at Twitter.com/jeneeinkc.

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