The Norman Transcript

February 17, 2014

What’s seriously wrong with Kansas

By Mary Sanchez
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Kansas might as well start producing “Only Heterosexuals Served Here” signs for businesses and government offices.

A bill that sailed through the state’s House of Representatives tells Kansans: You can be as discriminatory as you like against homosexuals and the state will have your back. Just be sure and do it in God’s name! The bill is meeting pushback in the Kansas Senate, but don’t be fooled. This is denial and fear on steroids. It’s happening across the country. And it won’t be the last we’ll hear of such legislative efforts.

The legislation is aimed at civil unions. It’s a pre-emptive strike to ensure that people “with sincerely held religious beliefs” against homosexuality will be able to turn gay couples away if they request flowers for a wedding, a banquet hall for a reception or wish to hire a photographer for their civil ceremony. Also covered are those involved with adoption, foster care, counseling or social services, including government employees. Like a city clerk who might want to cite his Bible to avoid legally recognizing a gay marriage declared valid elsewhere.

The politicians who support this nonsense have no clue what discrimination looks like, feels like or how it has historically functioned in society. The constant cry rationalizing this bill and similar measures elsewhere is that it is religious conservatives — not homosexuals — who are apt to suffer from discrimination.

Really? I’m doubtful that any has entered a public business to be told that their money is no good there — because they’re a Christian. Nor have they suffered the added humiliation of being slurred as they are shown the door. So the idea of ensuring such denial of public accommodation as a legally protected “right,” something no aggrieved person could ever sue for, feels just dandy to them. Justified even.

What’s really happening — what’s threatening the religious conservatives of Kansas — is that the general public’s views on homosexuality are shifting. Rapidly.

People under the age of 25 shrugged at the hoopla surrounding All-American lineman Michael Sam’s public announcement that he is gay before the NFL draft. Seventeen states have legalized same-sex marriage so couples can gain the tax benefits, insurance, medical protections and legal responsibilities that straight people have long held. And federal courts have overturned bans against same-sex marriages in Utah and Oklahoma.

So religious conservatives now take up the mantle of a minority. That’s one of the few honest things about this conversation. Their view of homosexuality will soon be (if it is not already) a minority opinion.

Yet they miss crucial points. No government authority — neither the courts nor the executive branch — is telling people that they can’t continue to decry homosexuality. They can quote the Bible to condemn it all they want. Preachers can preach that God has naught but fiery damnation in store for GLBT people. Churches can continue to bar gay couples from marriage and any other sacrament.

But that long enshrined First Amendment protection of speech and religious freedom isn’t good enough for these folks. No. They want the assurance that they can also run a public business, advertise their services to one and all, and still maintain the right to tell a gay person they aren’t welcome. And never face the legal ramification of a lawsuit, if such a thing could ever transpire in Kansas.

Here’s another overlooked fact. It is legal in much of America to discriminate against gays and lesbians. In many states and cities, a gay person can be fired if a boss takes a disliking to their “lifestyle,” and the fired employee has no legal recourse to fight back. Sexual orientation does not enjoy the federal protections of other attributes, such as race, sex, color, religion or national origin.

This backlash is not unlike the many hateful exertions to protect the “Southern way of life” from the threat of civil rights legislation. Certainly, there were, and likely still are, people who opposed the “mixing of the races” on religious grounds.

The Kansas bill’s sponsor points to one clause as a measure of fairness to gays. When an employee of a business or a government office doesn’t want to deal with a gay person, another employee should. Tap the non-homophobe to do the job! This only underscores the bill’s absurdity, especially from a Christian perspective. Jesus of Nazareth was infamous in his time for supping with prostitutes and tax collectors, and yet these supposedly upright followers of his cannot bear to act with charity and decency in public and commercial life?

To defeat this bill and others like it around the country, a spotlight must be focused on the legislators who back them. Efforts to that effect have already begun in Kansas. But this sort of political hustle won’t die easily. It’s all about ginning up feelings of persecution among so-called “values voters” ... over having to surrender the long-held prerogative to persecute. Lacking any grace or humility, these demagogues won’t leave the scene until they’ve discharged all their poison into our politics.

But they will never prevail.

Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via email at msanchez@kcstar.com.

Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.