Kansas’ Failed House Bill 2453

Alex Sher


Kansas has already been known as conservative, especially when it comes to gay rights. It is home to the Westboro Baptist Church,which is vocal about its hatred of LGBT persons. Also, while many states of forbidden workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation to private businesses, since 2007, Kansas has only forbidden workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity for government employment (Lawrence is the only city to have extended this to private employment). The issue of gay rights was brought to Kansas’s government recently with House Bill 2453. Introduced into the Kansas House by Rep. Charles Macheers, R-Shawnee, in January 2014, the bill, also known as the Religious Freedom Act, allows people to refuse service to same sex couples for religious reasons.


The bill would allow businesses and employees to refuse “any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities” and more related to any marriage, civil union, etc., if doing so went against their religion. In addition, the proposed bill explicitly states that people can refuse to solemnize or recognize a marriage or similar partnership. The bill did say, however, that if an employee refused service because of this bill, their employer was required to either find an employee to help the couple or to ensure that the services are provided by someone, as long as it does not cause “Undo hardship to the employer.”  On Wednesday, Feb. 12, the Kansas House of Representatives passed the bill with a vote of 72-49 (cnn.com).


Kansas lawmakers involved explained they did not want employees to be punished for sticking to their religious beliefs. They thought that all employees, even public employees, should not be forced to provide services to homosexual individuals if it would go against their religious beliefs. At the time, the Republican-dominated Kansas Senate and Governor Sam Brownback’s history of opposing same-sex marriage seemed to hint that the bill would sail right along and become a law with ease despite knowledge that the bill would receive opposition. On Feb. 13, CNN’s Ben Brumfield even said, “Despite the blowback, its chances of passing seem pretty good.”


Local representative, Rep. Rob Bruchman, R-Johnson County, was marked absent or not voting during the vote. Bruchman did not respond when contacted for comment about the bill.


Since HB-2453 passed in the House, the bill received much more opposition than expected. In addition to the expected dismay of nonprofits including Equality Kansas, many citizens and even large companies, including AT&T, according to “Huffington Post,” spoke out against the bill. “As a major employer and retailer in Kansas, we strongly urge the Kansas Senate to reject HB 2453,” said AT&T’s President in Steve Hahn in a written statement opposing the bill. “The bill promotes discriminatory behavior by businesses against their customers… it eliminates the use of fair business practices with customers in Kansas.”

It is unclear what caused the their decision, but the Kansas Senate did kill the bill. KS Senate President Susan Wagle spoke on behalf of the Senate explaining it was worried about the negative results for the businesses that would use the bill.

While the Kansas government decided a bill allowing religious employees to deny service to those who go against their beliefs would do more harm than good, the Arizona state legislature disagreed. A week after Kansas decided not to pass the bill, the Arizona passed a similar bill into law. However, Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill when it reached her desk.