Rally on Kansas Capitol decries House 'religious freedom' bill

The Rev. Kent Little came to the steps of the Capitol on Tuesday to call out some Kansas legislators on religious freedom.

Little was one of about a dozen speakers to address a crowd of about 150 who gathered in freezing weather on the south steps of the Statehouse to demand equality for gay people and protest House Bill 2453.

While that group was protesting, a Wichita-based group was working to resurrect the bill.

The bill would allow business owners, government officials and individual workers to deny service to gay couples, if serving them conflicted with “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“I have a confession,” said Little, senior pastor of College Hill United Methodist Church in Wichita. “I am a person of faith. And I am straight. And I am a citizen. That may not be particularly astonishing news.

“But it might be news to some of those who occupy the rotunda behind me that I am all of those things and I find HB 2453 to be not only an offense to my citizenship, not only an offense to those of you gathered here, but an offense to my deeply held religious beliefs.”

The bill passed the House by a wide margin but state Senate leaders put the brakes on it after a hailstorm of criticism and ridicule from across the nation.

Possibly the biggest cheer of Tuesday’s rally came when organizers announced that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was poised to veto a similar bill approved by both houses of her state’s Legislature. Brewer has not said publicly she’ll veto the Arizona bill, but several national news organizations were reporting Tuesday that she is planning to kill it.

The demonstration on the Capitol steps coincided with the release of a public opinion poll commissioned by the Wichita-based Kansas Family Policy Council, which hopes to revive at least part of the bill.

The council poll reported that a majority of Kansans, 64 percent, would support a bill that “protects a Kansan employee or business owner in the wedding industry from being forced to assist in a same-sex marriage – either by photographing, catering or providing some related service – if that meant violating their faith.”

Seventy percent disagreed with the proposition that “it is okay to have to forfeit some of their religious civil rights and liberties for same-sex marriage to be recognized under Kansas law,” according to the poll.

The poll of 400 Kansans was conducted by Lawrence Research of Santa Ana, Calif., and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Those results were almost diametrically opposed to the results of a poll last week by Public Policy Polling, a national firm that surveyed 693 Kansas voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percent.

That poll showed only 29 percent support on the question: “Do you support or oppose the bill recently proposed in Kansas that would allow individuals and businesses to refuse service for same-sex couples?”

Robert Noland, executive director of the Kansas Family Policy Council, said his group acknowledges that HB 2453 is unlikely to pass because of all the negative attention it has gotten.

However, he said, the group remains hopeful that some aspects of the bill, especially those directly related to wedding ceremonies, might be revived in amendments to other legislation.

He said the group believes that HB 2453 would not go as far in denying services as its opponents say, but it would be interested in passing a bill closely tied to actual wedding ceremonies, not ongoing denial of service to couples that are already in same-sex marriages or similar arrangements.

“We don’t want the bill to go any farther than that,” he said. “We are not interested in promoting any kind of discrimination. Those things are deplorable.”

At the gay-rights rally, Paul Osgood and Jerry Cundiff of Merriam said they’ve been together 38 years and will stay together whatever the Legislature does.

“They can pass all the laws they want, but it’s not going to change the love we feel for each other,” said Osgood, who held a sign reading “My God is not a God of hate.”

Osgood, 67, and Cundiff, 74, said they came primarily to support younger gay people who may be targeted by the legislation.

They were accompanied by their pastor, the Rev. Chase Peeples of the Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ in Kansas City, Mo.

Peeples lives in Overland Park and said his church draws members from both sides of the state line.

“It’s part of my Christian faith that God loves all people and God is against all forms of discrimination,” he said.

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