TOPEKA (AP) — Gay-rights advocates lashed out Wednesday at the Kansas House's leading Democrat, saying he showed only tepid opposition to a bill protecting people who, based on their religious beliefs, discriminate against gays and lesbians.
Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat who's also running for governor, voted against the measure, which the House passed 72-49 on Wednesday, sending it to the state Senate.
The bill would prohibit government sanctions or anti-discrimination lawsuits against individuals, groups and businesses over faith-based refusals to recognize marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships, or to provide goods, services, accommodations or employment benefits to couples.
Supporters argued that the bill would protect the rights of Kansans' to adhere to their religious beliefs even if federal courts strike down the state constitution's ban on same-sex unions.
They contend the measure is akin to protections for churches, religious groups and others in states in which lawmakers have legalized gay marriage.
Davis issued a statement after a House debate Tuesday saying the bill "goes out of its way to ignore the critical challenges families are facing right now."
The statement did not mention the bill's contents or deal with critics' main concern, that the measure would encourage widespread discrimination against gays and lesbians.
"Every day we spend on issues like this is one day less this Legislature and governor has to tackle the real, growing crises at hand," Davis said in the statement.
Davis is the presumed Democratic challenger this year to conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who hasn't formally endorsed the bill, but has said he thinks religious freedoms need to be protected.
Davis is trying to woo unaffiliated voters and disaffected GOP moderates by emphasizing economic issues and education funding.
Gay rights advocates have become an increasing visible constituency within the Kansas Democratic Party during the past decade, particularly as the GOP has moved further right on social issues.
On Wednesday, Equality Kansas State Chairwoman Sandra Meade decried Davis' response to a "blatant attempt to maintain second-class citizen status" for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Kansans.