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Kansas Senate Judiciary chairman says anti-gay bill is dead in Legislature

Updated: 2014-02-19T05:36:40Z

By JOHN HANNA

The Associated Press

— An anti-gay marriage proposal that roiled Kansas politics is dead, the chairman of a state Senate committee assigned to review it said Tuesday.

But the declaration from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King didn't appear likely to end the debate over providing legal protections for people and organizations refusing for religious reasons to provide goods and services to gay and lesbian couples. King, an Independence Republican, said he'll still have hearings on whether Kansas needs to enact religious liberty protections in case the federal courts strike down the state's gay-marriage ban.

The House approved a bill last week to prohibit government sanctions or anti-discrimination lawsuits when individuals, groups and businesses cite their religious beliefs in refusing to provide goods, services, accommodations and employment benefits related to a marriage, civil union, domestic partnership, or a celebration of such relationships.

Supporters said their intent was to prevent florists, bakers and photographers from being punished for refusing to participate in same-sex weddings, keep churches from having to provide space or clergy for such ceremonies and keep religiously affiliated adoption agencies from being forced to place children with gay couples. Critics said the bill was much broader than advertised and would encourage discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Senate leaders already had said the bill would not pass their chamber, but King said Tuesday that his committee won't even take it up.

"We're not working House Bill 2453," said King, an Independence Republican, referring to the measure by number.

King said he's not drafting a narrower alternative. He said he'll have hearings so interested parties can have national experts discuss whether Kansas needs a new law.

"Something new would have to arise out of these hearings," he said.

Supporters said frequently that the bill has been misrepresented. Rep. Steve Brunk, a Wichita Republican and chairman of the House committee that handled the bill, said the intent was "religious liberties protection."

"The issue is not going to go away," Brunk said. "As the topic progresses, we'll refine the language."

But some House members felt burned.

"It's so tainted now, it needs to go away," said Rep. Scott Schwab, a conservative Olathe Republican, who supported the bill. "Did I make a vote that I regret? Yeah; that happens."

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state's leading gay-rights group, said he's pleased by King's declaration that the House bill is dead but doesn't expect the issue to vanish. His group and several others are planning a "Rally for Equality" next week at the Statehouse.

Witt said he's looking forward to the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearings.

"It's not going to be focused on 'we have to move this bill,' and all the acrimony that goes with it," he said.

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