Government & Politics

‘Please speak out for LGBTQ Kansans,’ Davids urges Kansas Republicans on Trump policy

Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids urged her Kansas GOP colleagues Tuesday to speak out against a Trump administration policy that will enable faith-based adoption services to turn away same-sex couples.

They won’t be heeding her advice.

Davids, the only Democrat in the Kansas delegation and one of nine LGBTQ members of Congress, sent a letter Tuesday asking Republican colleagues to use their relationships with President Donald Trump to help reverse the policy.

“As a member of the LGBTQ community myself, I cannot overstate the material harm this proposed rule would do. Preventing qualified, capable, and loving parents from fostering or adopting children in need of a home based on the parents’ sexual orientation or gender identity is cruel and baseless,” wrote Davids, the first LGBTQ person to represent Kansas at the federal level.

The Department of Health and Human Services released a proposed rule Friday that would roll back an Obama-era regulation barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

All five Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation voiced support for the policy Tuesday after receiving Davids’ letter.

The new rule will enable groups receiving federal dollars through HHS, such as faith-based adoption services, to refuse to place children with same-sex couples without an impact on their federal funding. Kansas adopted a similar policy under former Gov. Jeff Colyer.

“Please speak out for LGBTQ Kansans and the thousands of Kansas children in foster care who will be harmed by this rule,” Davids told her colleagues.

It’s the first time the freshman has specifically asked the state’s Republicans to join her in opposing one of Trump’s policies.

Reps. Roger Marshall, Steve Watkins and Ron Estes issued a joint response Tuesday afternoon in support of the Trump administration’s decision to drop the Obama era rule.

“The proposed rule by HHS rolls back a radical left policy implemented in the closing days of the Obama administration. The rule will not prevent anyone from adopting children, but instead allows faith-based foster care and adoption services to continue to place children in homes with loving parents,” the Kansas Republicans wrote in a joint statement.

“The Trump administration is right to protect religious freedom and this rule is good news for Kansas children in foster care because it will allow more providers to participate in the system, rather than exclude providers based on deeply held religious beliefs. We applaud this rule as it will help more foster kids find loving homes and will keep the focus on the welfare of children, instead of proxy culture wars waged by radical left ideologues.”

The Trump administration’s rule would make HHS adhere to the federal anti-discrimination law, which does not include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes.

Davids is a co-sponsor of a bill that would add these categories to the law, which prohibits discrimination based on race and religion. The bill passed the Democratic-controlled House in May, but has not move forward in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Davids has also co-sponsored a bill that would ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination in adoption and foster care and provide state’s greater resources to serve LGBT youth in foster care.

“This funding comes from hardworking taxpayers, and it is unacceptable to allow those funds to be used for discrimination,” Davids wrote in her letter.

The proposed rule will undergo a 30-day public comment period upon its publication in the Federal Register.

Both of the states Republican senators issued statements in support of the Trump administration’s move, contending the change prevents discrimination against faith-based groups.

“I am against any type of discrimination. I strongly support religious freedom and am committed to the rule of law, as such I don’t believe the federal government should be in the business of regulating religion,” Roberts said in the statement.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, said in a statement that it should be a priority to permit as many adoption agencies as possible to operate.

“By forcing faith-based organizations to follow government regulations instead of their beliefs, it would result in fewer agencies working to fulfill that goal. Under the Administration’s rule, same-sex couples, single parents and all eligible to adopt may continue to do so through accommodating agencies,” Moran said.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that the proposed rule would be detrimental to Kansas kids and praised Davids for speaking out on it. But the governor’s statement did not say whether Kelly’s administration planned to seek a repeal of the state law, adopted under GOP predecessor, which enables faith-based groups to refuse same-sex couples without an impact on their state funding.

The Kansas Catholic Conference, one of the main group that advocated for the Kansas law, applauded the Trump administration’s decision to pursue a similar policy.

Tom Witt, the spokesman for Equality Kansas, the state’s leading LGBTQ rights group, said the reversal of the Obama policy represents a broken promise from Trump, who pledged to protect gay rights as a presidential candidate in 2016.

“For nearly two decades, we have endured ongoing state-level attacks on our efforts to protect LGBTQ Kansans from discrimination. We’re now seeing the same tactics at the federal level, where the Trump administration and its far‑right allies are removing what little protections we have,” Witt said in an email. “Not only that, but they are actively incentivizing discrimination with the very tax dollars we pay.”

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Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.
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