Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed an executive order Tuesday rescinding a protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender state workers put into place eight years ago by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
Sebelius’ executive order in 2007 said state workers could not be discriminated against, fired or harassed because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
Brownback, a Republican, issued an additional executive order affirming that state employees could not be discriminated against because of their race, religion, gender, age or country of national origin.
“This Executive Order ensures that state employees enjoy the same civil rights as all Kansans without creating additional ‘protected classes’ as the previous order did,” Brownback said in a short statement that did not specifically refer to sexual orientation or gender identity. “Any such expansion of ‘protected classes’ should be done by the legislature and not through unilateral action.”
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He said the order also reaffirmed commitment to “hiring, mentoring and recognizing veterans and individuals with disabilities.”
Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading LGBT rights group, said state workers could now be judged on whom they love at home rather than on their job performance.
“This action by the governor is an outrage,” he said. “Gay, lesbian, and transgender state employees across Kansas have trusted they would be safe from discrimination and harassment in their workplace but Sam Brownback has, by erasing their job protections, declared ‘open season’ on every one of them.”
Democrats called the move regressive and discriminatory. Republicans were mixed in their reactions.
Rep. John Wilson, a Lawrence Democrat, accused the governor of trying to “divert attention from his irresponsible management of the state and focus on divisive and discriminatory social issues.”
House Democratic Leader Tom Burroughs of Kansas City, Kan., said in a statement that “Brownback is playing to his base and attempting to distract from the serious budget crisis facing our state. The bottom line is this: All Kansans deserve to be treated fairly and with respect and no Kansan should be denied equal protection under the law.”
Rep. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican, called the notion that a state worker could be fired for being gay unfortunate.
“No one,” he said, “should be made to feel ashamed of who they are and I don’t think anyone should ever lose their job for being gay. ”
Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican, a former federal judge, defended the governor’s decision from a legal standpoint, saying that if sexual orientation isn’t a protected class at the federal level, then the issue should be up to the Legislature to decide.
“ Until sexual orientation is either added in Kansas as a protected class under our law or added federally, which it isn’t now … I think that’s the Legislature’s prerogative,” Rubin said. “Whether they should be a protected class is a separate question. … But it isn’t a protected class until we say it is.”
Dave DePue, director of the Capitol Commission, a Christian organization, said that if Democrats want to include sexual orientation as a protected class, they should do it through a bill rather than an executive order. DePue often advises Brownback on social issues, but he said Tuesday’s executive order came as a surprise.
Brownback also rescinded eight other orders put into place by Sebelius and Mark Parkinson when the two Democrats were governors of Kansas. He officially ended several councils and task forces set up by the two, including the Kansas Broadband Advisory Task Force and the Interagency Working Group for Wind Energy, which had been inactive.