Conservative lawmakers in Kansas are quietly trying to revive a controversial bill that gives public and private employees the right to refuse service to same-sex couples based on religious beliefs.
The bill made its way through the Kansas House last session but was blocked by Senate leaders after a groundswell of public opposition.
But some, including Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Kansas, told FoxNews.com that informal talks and strategy sessions to get legislation passed during the upcoming session have already started.
“The purpose of the bill is becoming clearer,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald believes forcing businesses to serve same-sex couples blankets their freedom of religion. He says the bill is designed to protect religious Kansans from lawsuits similar to one launched in New York earlier this year.
In that case, the owners of Liberty Ridge Farm, a rural farm in upstate New York, were fined $13,000 for refusing to host a lesbian wedding. The owners, citing constitutional rights to free speech and religious freedom, appealed the August ruling by the Division of Human Rights that they violated the state’s anti-discrimination law.
Robert and Cynthia Gifford were ordered to pay $10,000 to the state of New York and another $1,500 each to Melisa Erwin and Jennie McCarthy, the same-sex couple denied at the farm. New York legalized same-sex marriage in June 2011.
The same-sex marriage issue in Kansas has gotten dicer. Last month, the state’s Supreme Court cleared the way for additional same-sex marriages in the state’s most populous county while declaring that it would defer to federal courts on whether the state’s ban on same-sex marriages in constitutional.
LGBT rights advocates have compared a business turning away gay and lesbian couples to racial discrimination during the segregation era.
“Should businesses that do business with the public have to serve everybody? Yes,” said Tom Witt, the executive direct of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading LGBT rights organization, told the Kansas City Star. “That’s a principle of American society. You are open for business, then you’re open for business to everybody. And you don’t get to choose what classes of people you’re not going to serve.”
Witt also told the paper in an interview that his organization, Equality Kansas, will fight to have sexual orientation and gender identity added to the state’s anti-discrimination statute in the upcoming session.