Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback acceded on Tuesday to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage by recognizing gay nuptials in his state, but on the same day signed an executive order prohibiting adverse action against clergy and religious organizations for opposing same-sex unions.
In a statement, Brownback said he signed the directive — Executive Order 15-05, “Preservation and Protection of Religious Freedom” — to uphold religious liberty in the aftermath of the court ruling.
“The Kansas Bill of Rights affirms the right to worship according to ‘dictates of conscience’ and further protects against any infringement of that right,” Brownback said. “Today’s executive order protects Kansas clergy and religious organizations from being forced to participate in activities that violate their sincerely and deeply held beliefs.”
Brownback, a Republican who opposes same-sex marriage, added he disagrees with the court decision, but “it is important that all Kansans be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”
Meanwhile, after holding out since the Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage, Kansas is now recognizing those unions in the state.
Eileen Hawley, a Brownback spokesperson, confirmed Monday to the Washington Blade the state is now recognizing same-sex marriages for the purposes of spousal benefits to state employees and changing names on a driver’s license. The state had resisted making those changes in the days after the Supreme Court decision.
The executive order prohibits state action against any individual clergy, religious leader or religious organizations on the basis they believe marriage should be limited to one man, one woman or act on that belief.
The order specifically prohibits punitive action against religious leaders or clergy who refuse to perform a same-sex marriage; religious organizations that refuse to solemnize or provide any goods for a same-sex wedding; or religious organizations that otherwise act on a religious or moral belief against same-sex marriage.
The executive order is along the lines of a similar directive signed by Louisiana governor and Republican presidential candidate Bobby Jindal on Monday. But the Kansas order doesn’t go as far as the Louisiana directive.
Brownback’s order is limited to clergy, religious leaders and religious organizations, but Jindal’s expands the definition of person under the state’s religious freedom law to include individuals, non-profit, or for-profit corporations that oppose same-sex marriage.
Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, slammed the executive order as “unnecessary and harmful.”
“Religious institutions have never been required to marry anyone outside their faith traditions,” Kubic said. “Allowing same-sex couples to marry — as the U.S. Supreme Court has now ruled is the law of the land in all 50 states — does not change that in any way, and so today’s executive order is unnecessary.”
According to the ACLU of Kansas, the order is harmful because it could enable religious organizations that receive taxpayer money to engage anti-LGBT discrimination. For example, a homeless shelter that receives a state contract or grant could deny family housing to a gay couple with a child, or a foster care agency could refuse to place a child in a same-sex household, the organization said. Moreover, singling out just one form of religious beliefs about marriage poses serious constitutional concerns, the ACLU of Kansas says.
But Kansas has no state law prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination, so the directive won’t interfere with any such statute. The only municipality in Kansas with a pro-LGBT non-discrimination ordinance is Lawrence, but that measure exempts non-profit fraternal and social associations as well as religious organizations and non-profits for the purpose of public accommodations. The directive doesn’t seem to have any impact on the ordinance.
It remains to be seen whether Brownback will face lawsuits over his executive order. In Louisiana, the ACLU filed a lawsuit last week against Jindal over his religious freedom executive order.
Kubic said the ACLU of Kansas is closely monitoring the impact of the directive in the state. Asked whether a possible action could be a lawsuit, Kubic replied, “We are still figuring out all of the various implications of the executive order, so it is too early to rule any particular option out.”