Seven Republicans in the Kansas House are sponsoring a bill declaring same-sex marriage a "parody" of the established order and describing any form of marriage outside the union of a man and woman the equivalent of engaging in bestiality or the wedding of a person and an inanimate object.
The bill was part of a package of legislation introduced at the behest of Rep. Randy Garber, R-Sabetha, to realign state law on the definition of marriage, funding for abortions, internet access to pornography, throttling of social media companies responding to hate speech and the implementation of a state tax on customers of strip clubs.
The loudest response to those bills emerged Thursday from critics of House Bill 2320, the measure crafted to soften the legal standing of gay marriage with the goal of ending recognition of same-sex unions in Kansas. A companion piece of legislation, House Bill 2321, would create an "optional elevated marriage" to make it more difficult to exit in a divorce.
Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said the marriage bills represented "the most vile, hateful and disrespectful legislation I have seen in my 14 years as Equality Kansas’ lobbyist."
He said legislation to limit or remove rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender Kansans surfaced every session, but the text of the bills championed by Garber and cosponsors reached the level of "extremist vitriol." He said the late Rev. Fred Phelps, who led Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church at pickets of funerals for LGBT individuals, would be proud of sentiments offered by the GOP sponsors.
On Thursday, Garber said he was taken back by attention devoted to the pornography and marriage bills. He stood by his description of same-sex marriage as a religious belief and a developed ideology. And, he said, drafting legislation to reflect his views on the subjects was a challenge.
"It's a tough one," Garber said. "I stand on what I believe."
The bill introductions follow the election of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who restored in January employment protections to LGBTQ state employees that were eliminated by an executive order signed by Gov. Sam Brownback. In November, the first openly gay lawmakers were elected to the House.
Garber was joined on House Bill 2320 by GOP Reps. Owen Donohoe, of Shawnee; David French, of Lansing; Cheryl Helmer, of Mulvane; Ron Highland, of Wamego; Steve Huebert, of Valley Center; and Bill Rhiley, of Wellington. The same group endorsed House Bill 2321, with the addition of Rep. Ken Rahjes, R-Agra.
Rep. Brenda Dietrich, a Topeka Republican, said she declined an opportunity to sponsor the bills. She was lobbied by Chris Sevier, an anti-gay activist who was revealed to be the author of "parody marriage" and porn-blocking bills in other states. He gained attention by trying to wed his laptop in protest of legalized same-sex unions and sued Apple for failing to stop him from accessing the porn he blamed for destroying his own marriage.
"He was very, very aggressive," said Dietrich, who recalled Sevier's pitch suggested anyone opposed to the bills couldn't honestly be a Christian. "One of the most aggressive people I've ever had in my office."
Liz Hamor, director of the Kansas chapter of Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, took exception to sponsorship of the bills by Helmer, who is an elementary school guidance counselor in the Wichita public school district. GLSEN is a local chapter of a national nonprofit working with K-12 schools to ensure all students feel safe at school regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
“Educators know that students cannot learn in school if they don’t feel safe," Hamor said. "This bill, and the fact that an educator endorsed it, is evidence that schools need LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination policies along with teacher education on how to create environments that support all of their students so they can learn and thrive.”
Individuals entering into the new elevated marriage would undergo mandatory counseling before their nuptials and supplementary counseling as needed during periods of marital strife. Under the bill, which had eight House GOP sponsors, the judiciary would be responsible for documents outlining the seriousness of marriage and articulating "exclusive" grounds for divorce. Anyone taking part in this marriage would be bound by those restrictions even after moving out of state.
Under the gay-marriage bill, "the government's endorsement of LGBTQ ideology has amounted to the greatest sham since the inception of American jurisprudence." The text declared "so-called marriages that do not involve a man and a woman that amount to doctrines that are inseparably linked to the religion of secular humanism."
The legislation indicated the "term 'parody marriage' refers to so-called marriages between more than two people, persons of the same sex, a person and an animal, or a person and an object." In addition, the legislation denounces LGBTQ individuals who link their struggle to work of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The bill says "there are no ex-blacks, but there are thousands of ex-gays."