My Facebook feed is abuzz with talk amongst my friends and family back home in Kansas about HB 2453, a bill approved yesterday by the Kansas House of Representatives that encourages discrimination based on sexual orientation for ostensibly religious reasons. I'll try to refrain from giving my opinion here, though anyone who knows me probably has an idea what it is.
I'd rather focus for a moment on my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas, which I typically describe to people here in Brooklyn as an outpost for creative, progressive thought in the largely desolate wasteland that is the rest of Kansas. Predictably, most of my friends and family are none too happy with this bill. My sixteen-year-old sister gave a fair distillation:
So embarrassed to live in Kansas, right now. Ideally, I'd like to live somewhere where everyone is treated equally. Right now, that's only in my dreams.
My cousin Andrea, though, pointed out that Lawrence actually has a municipal ordinance in place to prevent this type of discrimination (boldface is in the document itself):
The practice or policy of discrimination against persons by reason of race sex, religion, color, national origin, age, ancestry, familial status, sexual orientation, or disability is a matter of concern to the City of Lawrence,since such discrimination not only threatens the rights and privileges of the inhabitants of the city, but also menaces the institutions and foundations of a free democratic state. It is hereby declared to be the policy of the City of Lawrence, in exercise of its police power for the protection of the public safety, public health and general welfare, for the maintenance of business and good government, and for the promotion of the City's trade and commerce, to eliminate and prevent discrimination, segregation, or separation because of race, sex, religion, color, national origin, age, ancestry, familial status, sexual orientation, or disability.
While discussing with my cousin Skyler on Andrea's thread, I realized this new state law, its fundamental stupidity aside, could result in a legal "triple jeopardy" (for lack of a better description) scenario. In essence we have a local ordinance that contradicts state law, and that same state law contradicts more than 50 years of federal court precedent based on the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1975 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. So, say a merchant in Lawrence decides to refuse service to a customer, or a government employer decides to fire an employee, based on sexual orientation. That person or organization, subject to a municipal ordinance that would clearly find that person in violation, could appeal to the State of Kansas, which now has a law that clearly states the person or organization is within their rights and could invalidate the violation. Of course, the violated party could then kick it up to federal law, which clearly supports the original local ordinance. I know, that's a long process to come back to where we started. All because the state of Kansas wants to be, as Governor Sam Brownback says, a model for "red-state governance."