A bill introduced Monday would ban discrimination in the private sector on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Dozens of lawmakers attached have their names to the proposal, which offers protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community in employment, housing and services.
“Many people don’t realize that you can be fired, denied housing or refused business for being LGBTQ, and I think that’s wrong,” said Rep. Brandon Woodard, D-Shawnee. “I don’t believe that’s a Kansas value, and so we want to work to change that.”
Woodard and Rep. Susan Ruiz, D-Shawnee, expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support they received after being sworn in last month as the state’s first openly gay legislators. Their proposed bill is co-sponsored by 38 representatives and 17 senators, including some Republicans in both chambers.
Ruiz said the legislation would help Kansas appear welcoming to businesses.
“We really want this for Kansas,” Ruiz said. “We want to attract a diverse work force. We need a very strong work force in Kansas.”
The bill would amend the Kansas Act Against Discrimination, passed in 1953 and updated several times through the years, to add sexual orientation and gender identity to a list that includes race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin and ancestry.
The protections for the LGBTQ community mirror an executive order signed by Gov. Laura Kelly, which only applies to state government employees.
Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said the law already exempts religious institutions, and “concerns by people who support these institutions are misplaced and unfounded.”
Sen. Barbara Bollier, D-Mission Hills, said the Presbyterian Church, to which she belongs, once relied on scripture to support slavery. Eventually, the church changed its policy, she said, but the Bible didn’t change.
“You are not allowed to discriminate against others,” Bollier said. “So if you want to go back to the Bible and say I’m against people of a different color or I’m against people of a different religion, you’re not allowed in our law to do that. And to say then that I’m against people who are different than me — how God created them, that’s different than me — that is still wrong. That shouldn’t be an individual right.”
Among the co-sponsors in the House is Shawnee Republican Rep. Tom Cox, who voted in favor of a bill a year ago that allows religious institutions to deny child placement services to same-sex couples. The measure passed into law when it cleared the House by one vote.
Cox said his vote was the result of a compromise. Although he didn’t support the bill, he agreed to vote yes in exchange for limiting the scope to apply only to contracts with the Department for Children and Families instead of all government agencies.
“I’ve always supported equal rights for the LGBT community,” Cox said. “It’s something that I’ve grown up in. One of my biggest frustrations with the Republican party over the years was the continual push against the ability for same-sex couples to marry.”