By Lori Heine
Advocates of smaller government often remind big-government devotees that legislation may have unintended consequences. A tsunami of public backlash is giving the Kansas state legislature a baptism into that reality. Fearful that the wave of judicial decisions now rippling around the nation may result in repeal of its laws against same-sex marriage, Republicans in the land of Dorothy, Toto, and Fred Phelps hurriedly cranked out a bill to protect the “religious freedom” of workers objecting to gay marriage on religious grounds. Now the Kansas GOP is struggling to stay afloat.
This might be considered a “come to Jesus” moment. It certainly is a “What were they thinking?” moment. The Republicans in the Kansas legislature have stirred up holy hell.
If they want to prevent anti-Christian discrimination, they have a strange way of going about it. What they didn’t seem to be thinking about was the fact that their kids – many of whom have nothing against gay marriage, and who are already struggling to find jobs – might be rendered less employable. Old McDonald may think it’s fine and dandy to hire a Christian, whose scruples won’t let him serve same-sex couples, to slop the hogs down on the farm. But few companies of any size are going to hire people who might play pick-and-choose with when they’ll perform their duties and when they won’t.
According to the Kansas City Star, “Kelly Arnold, chair of the Kansas Republican Party, said the controversy could potentially hurt the party with younger voters.” Gee, d’yuh think?
Just as a whole raft of prejudiced and often-erroneous assumptions are often made about gays, so, too, might they be made about Christian job-seekers. Even those whose sense of professionalism and dedication to their responsibilities would never let them turn their backs on anyone they were being paid to serve may need to keep their religious convictions “in the closet” just to get a job.
Sandra Meade, who chairs Equality Kansas, told the Huffington Post that “Unfortunately, it really has no practical effect other than the serious issue of enabling government employees to continue to discriminate and the harm that it does to businesses.”
It’s plausible that the drafters of this bill didn’t stop to think that if it exempted public employees from having to serve same-sex couples, police officers and firefighters might make that choice in situations that could cost us our lives. The bill has since been honed to eliminate that possibility. Which was mighty sporting of these pious and upstanding Kansas folks, considering the fact that it never made provisions to exempt LGBT citizens from paying the taxes to support these services.
As the headline of an article in the February 17 Kansas City Star observes, “Some Kansas GOP lawmakers would rather religious freedom bill just ‘go away.’” It very well may do that, as it isn’t expected to pass – at least not without major revisions. But come November, in the minds of many voters, it may live on.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Democrat, believes the bill to be unsalvageable no matter what changes are made. “I don’t see how there could be any compromise on this issue. I think it’s pretty clear that the House Republicans who voted for this bill wanted to legalize discrimination,” he told the Star.
Anti-equality Republicans may tell themselves this is simply the opinion of those dastardly Democrats, but if recent polling on the issue nationwide is to be believed, it is rapidly becoming most people’s opinion. Kansas is hardly the only state in which foes of same-sex marriage are undergoing spasms of panic as marriage equality gains traction. It’s not the only state where in that panic, stupid things are being said and done. But if evolution has made any instinct in political animals particularly strong, it is the instinct of survival. It will be interesting to see how many are so firm in their convictions that they’ll be willing to commit political suicide.
Historically, Republicans have been the ones to lecture about the dangers of unintended consequences. If they want their own careers to be salvageable, those aspiring to a future in politics should probably go back and listen to some old recordings of their former, more reasonable selves.