Government & Politics

Meet the man influencing state lawmakers across U.S. to file anti-gay, anti-porn bills

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Same-sex marriage supporters celebrated at Ilus Davis Park Friday in celebration of the Supreme Court's decision to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states. Sarah Darby/The Kansas City Star
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Same-sex marriage supporters celebrated at Ilus Davis Park Friday in celebration of the Supreme Court's decision to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states. Sarah Darby/The Kansas City Star

Chris Sevier has tried in several states to marry his laptop—as a way of publicizing his opposition to same sex marriage.

He once sued Apple for failing to block adult websites, claiming it led to a porn addiction that destroyed his marriage.

More recently, Sevier has given himself a new mission: lobbying state lawmakers to promote his extreme anti-gay, anti-porn agenda. While he’s been discredited and rebuffed in at least a dozen states from Virginia to Hawaii, Sevier has found a champion in Topeka: Rep. Randy Garber, a Sabetha Republican.

Garber, who met with Sevier in December, is chief sponsor of a series of bills filed in the Kansas House last week, including one (HB 2319) that would mandate an anti-porn filter on all new phones and computers sold in the state. It would impose a $20 fee for removal of the block, with the revenue going to anti sex-trafficking efforts.

Other measures would institute a mandatory cover charge at strip clubs (HB 2323); declare same-sex marriages “parody marriages” and stop the state from recognizing such unions, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has sanctioned them (HB 2320); create a special category of “elevated marriage” between a man and woman that would require counseling before a divorce is granted (HB 2321); bar the use of social media algorithms to censor religious or conservative opinion (HB 2322); and place constitutional restrictions on taxpayer funding for abortions (HB 2318).

Each bill has various co-sponsors, although a few lawmakers are on each bill, including Rep. Owen Donohoe, a Shawnee Republican, Rep. David French, a Lansing Republican, Rep. Cheryl Helmer, a Mulvane Republican, Rep. Ron Highland, a Wamego Republican and Rep. Steve Huebert, a Valley Center Republican.

A Facebook account associated with Sevier called them “my bills.”

“I’m just a citizen,” Sevier said when reached by phone last week. “Just a citizen who came in off the street.”

Sevier, whose full legal name is Mark Christopher Sevier, according to his Tennessee attorney’s license, said he did approach a Kansas lawmaker about introducing legislation, but didn’t name who it was before hanging up.

In an interview, Garber said it was “one guy” who lobbied him on the anti-porn bill.

“He came to me and I said ‘yeah sounds like a good bill to me, I’ll definitely introduce it.

Asked who he was, Garber replied, “Is that important?”

“It is a citizen. Citizen of the United States,” he said.

Had Garber looked more closely into the legislation and its advocate, he would have discovered a series of news stories published over the last several years by The Daily Beast, The Miami Herald and the Associated Press, detailing Sevier’s over-the-top lawsuits and criminal history.

The Iraqi war veteran’s law license was placed on “disability status” in 2011 after the Supreme Court of Tennessee declared him “incapacitated...by reason of mental infirmity or illness.”

Garber said he wasn’t aware that Sevier had lost the ability to practice law in Tennessee.

Two years later he filed his suit against Apple, asserting that easy access to porn through his laptop constituted “unfair competition and interference of the marital contract.”

“The Plaintiff became totally out of synch in his romantic relationship with his wife, which was a consequence of his use of his Apple product,” Sevier wrote. “The Plaintiff could no longer tell the difference between internet pornography and tangible intercourse due to the content he accessed through the Apple products.”

Later, as a protest against same-sex marriage, Sevier sought marriage licenses in Florida, Texas and Utah so that he could wed his laptop, calling himself “machinist.”

A 2017 investigation by The Daily Beast found that Sevier, who is in his 40’s, had a warrant out for his arrest in Tennessee for failure to appear at criminal contempt proceedings. He had failed to pay child support and violated a restraining order by communicating with his former wife.

Sevier has taken his legislation to other states, including Iowa, Tennessee, Hawaii, Alabama, Arizona, Virginia, Arkansas, South Carolina and Wyoming, where protests from civil liberties watchdogs and LGBTQ advocates scuttled them.

For a time, Sevier called his online pornography and human trafficking bill the “Elizabeth Smart Law,” for the teenager who was kidnapped from her Utah home as a teenager in 2002. She sent a cease-and-desist letter to demand her name be removed. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, an anti-pornography advocacy group, also demanded last year that Sevier stop claiming it supported his efforts.

In Rhode Island last year, State Sen. Frank Ciccone pulled the porn filter bill from consideration, citing its “dubious origins.”

The language of the Kansas bills reflects a strong opposition to government recognition of LGBTQ individuals, especially their right to marry. One measure says the government’s “endorsement of LGBTQ ideology has amounted to the greatest shame since the inception of American jurisprudence.”

Tom Witt, director of the gay rights group Equality Kansas, said the legislation represents the “most vile, hateful and disrespectful legislation” he has seen in 14 years as a lobbyist. The sponsors should be ashamed of themselves, he said.

These bills have surfaced as Gov. Laura Kelly has moved to add more protections for LGBTQ state employees.

Lauren Bonds, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said any law that essentially elevates people based on their sexual preference is “going to be problematic and probably a violation of the equal protection clause.

“Whether that’s offering inferior benefits and services to same-sex couples or whether that’s offering better services and benefits to straight couples, I can’t imagine that would pass constitutional scrutiny,” she said. “As a matter of quality and equality it seems very wrong and would be something we’re opposed to.”

In the days before the bills were introduced, Garber and Sevier also tried to recruit House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat, as a sponsor.

On Feb. 1, Garber and Sevier met with staff from Sawyer’s office, according to Heather Scanlon, his chief of staff. Scanlon said Garber came into Sawyer’s office with a man introduced as Mark (who would turn out to be Sevier) and a woman named Jessica.

Scanlon said she thought it was a little strange that Garber and Sevier had sought a meeting with Sawyer’s staff, given how conservative Garber is.

“He’s the one that’s doing all the talking,” Scanlon said of Sevier. “He talked to me about the human trafficking bill and about how this bill was designed to prevent prostitution rings and child porn.”

Scanlon said she questioned whether the anti-porn bill would actually be effective because trafficking and child porn often reside on the so-called dark web, which isn’t accessed through search engines and wouldn’t be easily stopped by a filter.

Sevier replied that the bill “would push everything into the dark web,” Scanlon said.

On Feb. 3 Scanlon received an email from another ally of Sevier’s, John Gunther, Jr., a member of Special Forces of Liberty, a Christian anti-trafficking group, thanking Scanlon for meeting.

One of the two phone numbers Gunter provides in the email matches a number associated with Sevier. Scanlon gave the email to The Star.

Scanlon said Garber and Sevier visited Sawyer’s office again earlier last week. At that meeting, Scanlon said she told them Sawyer would not co-sponsor the bills.

Rep. Brenda Dietrich, a Topeka Republican, said Sevier approached her last Wednesday — the day the bills were introduced — asking for her support. Although he gave Dietrich his name, she said it didn’t mean anything to her until later.

Dietrich said Sevier was “very aggressive.”

“I thought I’d never seen anybody quite so pushy. I mean, he just would not take no for answer when I said was not interested at this point in time in signing onto those bills,” Dietrich said.

On Tuesday, Garber said he was aware of Sevier’s controversial past, but said he questions the veracity of online claims.

“People do things they shouldn’t do and regret it later,” Garber said. “But I try not to judge people on what’s happened in their past.”

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Jonathan Shorman covers Kansas politics and the Legislature for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. He’s been covering politics for six years, first in Missouri and now in Kansas. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.

Lara Korte helps cover Kansas politics for the Kansas City Star. She is a senior at the University of Kansas majoring in journalism and political science.

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