Topeka It ain't over.
Religious conservatives angered by the Kansas Senate's defeat of a proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage are intent on resurrecting the issue when the Legislature returns for its wrap-up session April 28.
"We are very, very confident this is going to come up again," said Pastor Terry Fox of Wichita's Immanuel Baptist Church.
Fox is one of the leaders of a group of Wichita mega-churches that each have thousands of members and have banded together to apply political pressure to senators who have opposed them on this issue.
"We are going to work to hold senators accountable," Fox said. If they continue to disagree, "they're going to commit political suicide. People are going to file against them to run."
Proposed amendment dies
Kansas law prohibits gay marriage, but opponents of same-sex partnerships say the prohibition needs to be put in the Kansas Constitution to protect the law from potential legal decisions that have affected marriage laws in other states.
Amendments to the state constitution require a two-thirds majority vote of the House and Senate to place the proposal on a statewide ballot, and then approval by a majority vote at the polls.
Last month, the House voted by a two-thirds majority on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages. But the amendment went further, banning rights for any same-sex union or partnership.
In the Senate, Sen. Lana Oleen, R-Manhattan, proposed paring back the amendment, making it similar to the language of the current law. That change was approved by a majority of the Senate.
But when the time came to vote on the final package, the constitutional amendment was defeated.
Conservatives voted against it because they said Oleen's change weakened the proposal, and they were angered by tactics that had been used during debate that they said hid certain votes. Others, such as Sen. Mark Buhler, R-Lawrence, voted against it because they opposed the gay marriage ban from the outset.
Vote prompts anger
The defeat of the proposed constitutional amendment prompted a flood of e-mails, letters and calls from those who oppose homosexuality.
Buhler said he received 423 e-mails, mostly opposed to what the Senate did, within a couple of days of the vote.
"There's no question that for some people, they feel very, very passionate about this," Buhler said.
Buhler said he knew efforts were under way to bring the issue back up in the wrap-up session, but he hasn't changed his mind about his opposition to a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
"You either think we ought to separate people in our society or you don't. They're choosing which ones ought to be blessed with marriage, and I haven't gotten there yet," he said.
Fox said the defeat of the constitutional amendment had yielded one positive effect for his and other churches: an increase in church attendance.
"We're having over 100 first-time visitors every week," Fox said. "We can't handle the people that are coming. There is a desire out there for people to speak on these issues."
Sen. Ruth Teichman, R-Stafford, voted for Oleen's change to the amendment, saying it would have given voters the chance to put a ban on gay marriage in the state constitution and it would have been easier to defend against a legal challenge.
But Fox said the Oleen change was "disastrous." "It was unacceptable to us. It didn't strengthen the law at all. The people in Kansas are definitely going to hold the Senate responsible. It's not a threat. They (senators) work for us and we want something to vote on," he said.
Teichman said the issue had become more about scoring political points.
"It's not just the state of Kansas. It is being used as a political issue across the United States. If the people want to vote me out, that will be my fate," she said.
Diane Silver, a gay rights advocate from Lawrence and former Statehouse reporter for the Wichita Eagle, said the gay community was trying to hold on to the status quo.
"We're certainly working hard to contact the senators who have supported us and let them know they continue to have our support and that of many Kansans," Silver said.
Silver said she knew the conservative churches were working overtime to bring up the issue again.
"I know they believe that their way is the only way, but they do not have the right to impose their beliefs on the rest of the state," she said.
She said conservatives were eager to use the issue to defeat moderate politicians in the next election.
"Their goal is to get anyone out of state government who does not follow their religious beliefs. That should be frightening to any Kansan, no matter where they stand on this issue," she said.
Though miles apart on the issue of gay marriage, Silver and Fox agree on this: The battle over gay marriage will continue for years.
"This fight isn't over. It's not going to be over even after the session is over, whoever wins," Silver said.
Fox agreed. "This is a hill to die on when it comes to defining marriage. Eventually the church will lose on this issue if there is not a change in culture in the United States," he said.