Kansas Religious Act Addresses Gay Rights Concerns

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gay rights activists say they are satisfied with a new version of the Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act that has been introduced in the House this session.

It's the second attempt at this bill, which was first introduced last year, but died in the Senate.

Rep. Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican, tells the Lawrence Journal-World (http://bit.ly/UY3sw5 ) that the goal is to shield people who are concerned that government is infringing on religious liberties.

"Free exercise of religion is at the core of who we are as a people," Kinzer had said.

One example cited by Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer is a provision in the federal health care act that would require most employers to cover birth control, even if it goes against their long-held religious beliefs.

Lesbians and gays opposed a similar bill in 2012, and Tom Witt, executive director of the Kansas Equality Coalition, called it "nothing more than legislative gay-bashing."

Officials in Lawrence said last year that the bill at the time would have negated their own anti-discrimination ordinance that protects sexual orientation.

Witt said the new version of the bill adequately addresses those concerns, but cautioned that the measure could always be amended as it goes through the Legislature.

"It's a long process," he said.

Witt said he was surprised by the 2013 version of the act was not limited by acts of discrimination listed under the Kansas Acts Against Discrimination Act, which include issues of race, gender, religion and age but not sexual orientation.

Kinzer said the current act would accomplish the goals set forth during 2012 — protecting individuals from having government infringe on religious beliefs.

"My hope is that the way the bill is drafted now will take an issue off the table that I personally always felt was a red herring, but then obviously some people were concerned about," he said, referring to concerns about the bill condoning discrimination over sexual orientation.

The bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, of which Kinzer is chairman. A hearing on the bill hasn't been scheduled.

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