Kansas is what most would describe as a deep red state. For years, the state has been conservative, a part of the Bible belt, and thoroughly Republican. Politicians in Kansas, alarmed by the recent set of court decisions declaring same-sex marriage bans illegal, decided to implement a piece of legislature which would ensure that marriage equality for LGBT individuals would not be recognized. They are not the first to do so—North Carolina passed an strict marriage amendment less than two years ago—but the new law, which the Kansas House recently approved, extends its reach far beyond the normal attempts to prevent equality. If passed by the Kansas Senate and signed by the governor, both of which are Republican (although there are signs of growing opposition in the Senate), the law will echo the persecution and discrimination against people of color in the post-Reconstruction era. Using the justification of preventing religious discrimination, the law, if passed, would allow for anyone to deny gay couples service “if it would be contrary to their religious beliefs.” The key word is “anyone,” because the law actually applies to anyone and everyone. Any private business, government worker, or public servant—literally any citizen in Kansas—may decide not to serve people for no other reason than their sexuality. This ubiquitous “anyone” can refer most alarmingly to hospitals, whose employees could choose not to help those in need, but it also extends to restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, the DMV, and many, many others.
The wording of the law is filled with vagueness and ambiguity, which allows for a broad application of various interpretations. The law specifically says that no one will be forced to “provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement.” While the wording of this prospective law may seem to only apply to gay couples (which is still unacceptable), there is still much room for interpretation as to what things are “related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership” etc. Furthermore, there does even need to be confirmation that the person in question is, in fact, gay; what matters is the opinion of the one providing the service, since it is up to their discretion.
Those who try to protest the law, if it passes, would have little success within Kansas, as the law not only provides immunity to prosecution for discrimination, but also contains the stipulation that if an individual brings a person to court on the grounds that they faced discrimination, the complainant must pay the defendant’s attorney fees, making protesting very cost prohibitive. The law does require that the one denying the service must direct the customer to a comparable place of service, such as a different employee, but it must occur without “undue hardship to the employer.” Again, this is a vague statement which could be twisted to apply to almost any situation, making it difficult to prove that any violation of this already horrifying law occurred.
Institutionalized discrimination such as this is not as unfamiliar to the United States as you would like to think. It is legal in twenty-nine states to fire someone for being gay, although most people are unaware of that statistic. It is legal in thirty-three states to fire someone for being transgender, and however much protection exists for gay and bisexual individuals, even less exists for transgender individuals. Only seventeen states in the United States and eight Native American tribes recognize same-sex marriages, while thirty-one states have constitutional amendments banning the recognition of same sex marriage. So while Kansas is not the first to have legal discrimination, it is the first to propose a law this extreme, one which applies to nearly all aspects of everyday life. With all of the hype surrounding “gay marriage” (which really ought to be termed “marriage equality”), it can be easy to forget that a wedding day is the not the focus of an LGBTQ+ individual’s, or of anyone’s, life, and that until there is equality for LGBTQ people in all facets of life, from education to the government to the workplace, there is still a struggle. Even though the law has not passed the senate yet, and even if it does not actually pass, Kansas has a lot to answer for.