A Catholic lawmaker in Kansas introduced an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination bill last Tuesday. This bill is a response to the Kansas House’s passage of an anti-gay bill similar to Arizona’s failed SB 1062. This is only the latest legislative move in the struggle to ensure that both LGBT rights and religious liberty are protected under law.
Rep. Louis Ruiz’s bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing non-discrimination law, ending the ability of Kansans to fire LGBT people or refuse services to them. The Wichita Eagle reports the representative as saying:
” ‘What’s our message when we have these type of discriminatory bills that come out at either the federal or the state level? We’re defeating our own purpose as a country that wants to be inclusive. To me, this is a no-brainer’ ”
“Ruiz, a practicing Catholic, said he feels his religious beliefs are already protected, but that gay and lesbian Kansans do not enjoy the same protection under current state law.
Ruiz’s Catholic voice counteracts the Kansas Catholic Conference (KCC), a leading proponent of that state’s anti-gay bill. The KCC executive director recently said there was no discrimination against gay and lesbian people. The debate in Kansas over LGBT rights and religious liberty mirrors debates occurring in a number of state capitals and on the national level, too.
In US Catholic, Richard Wolf writes of this ‘balancing act’ between LGBT equality and religious liberty as he tries to lay out the questions involved with expanded LGBT rights and religious objections:
“The answer isn’t simple. Congress and the states often carve out exceptions for religious beliefs. The Supreme Court has consistently made room for religious exercise. And unlike race and gender, sexual orientation is not a protected class — yet.
“However, for a religious liberty bill such as Arizona’s to pass the smell test, it must show a compelling interest on the part of those who want to flex their religious muscles, and it must not impose undue costs or burdens on others. That is where many such efforts collapse…
“Beyond assessing the burden on consumers or employees, the other relevant question in most cases is: What’s the compelling interest?”
This perceived conflict between religious freedom and the advancement of LGBT equality is, in reality, a false one. While the Catholic bishops have been ardently opposed to marriage equality, Catholics in America overwhelmingly support legal rights for gay and transgender people. In every state which has passed equal marriage rights, strong religious liberty protections have been included so that no religious institution will be forced to offer same-gender marriages.
Anti-LGBT activists’ latest round of legislation is not about defending religious liberty, but curtailing the ever-growing right of LGBT to be fully equal citizens. Rep. Ruiz is completely correct that support for LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination laws is a “no-brainer.”
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry