Kansas legislators didn’t mean to discriminate against gay people? Put it in writing

03/05/2014 6:20 PM

03/05/2014 6:20 PM

Kansas pleaded that it didn’t mean to condone discrimination against gay people.

Legislators, even some of the folks who voted for the daffy “religious freedom” bill, decried it when faced with the national embarrassment the thing ignited.

Can we get that in writing? How about by a vote through the Legislature?

Because more than anything else, last month’s debacle proved the need to protect gay and lesbian people against such madness.

That will be the very important point to be made Thursday by Tom Witt, the executive director of the Kansas Equality Coalition. Witt will be one of several speakers before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The hearing will be on state protections currently in place for religious beliefs and actions.

Here is who should attend: each one of the House members who voted for the “religious freedom” bill that readied the state to deny public accommodations to LGBT people. Those legislators may believe the issue is just differing views of gay marriage. But it highlighted the ugly truth that in Kansas, gays and lesbians are not protected under the Kansas Act Against Discrimination.

And so the legislation nearly sanctioned such discrimination until wiser politicians stepped in to head off the backlash.

“Religious freedom to practice your faith is not the right to legislate your disapproval of others,” Witt said.

That’s another good point. And yet it’s a distinction still not grasped by many backers of the original bill. They don’t seem to understand that religious speech, like all our rights, has limits — in particular when people try to use their views to discriminate. Repeatedly they claim that mere disagreement with their opinion is censorship. It is not.

Religious conservatives are the ones who enjoy strong protections. Gays and lesbians do not. Want proof? Kansas offers that too.

The state produced the international poster boy for ugly religious speech. Religious conservatives may loathe the extreme comparison, but it is an apt one.

Fred Phelps illustrates just how horrible a person’s views of gays and lesbians can be, how vile the tactics and still, how that person has the right to hold such views and proclaim them to the world. Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church base their heinous attitudes and actions around a very twisted interpretation of the Bible. But that is their right — they are protected under freedom of speech.

That’s the way it works in America, including Kansas.

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