Committee considers bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation

Gay-rights advocates urge bill’s passage

? Advocates for gay rights on Thursday urged lawmakers to approve legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“As long as any of us are treated unequally, we are all unequal,” said Pedro Irigonegaray, an attorney for the Kansas Equality Coalition.

But opponents of Senate Bill 169 told the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee that the measure would provide special protections for homosexuals.

At one point, state Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, asked whether the bill would protect bestiality.

That brought a rebuke from Irigonegaray. “The simple answer is no, and to correlate a human right with a crime is inappropriate.”

Committee Chairman Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, said he would talk with committee members later to see whether there was enough support to recommend the bill for approval.

“I honestly don’t know,” Brungardt said when asked whether there was a majority on the panel that supported the measure.

The bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Kansas Act Against Discrimination. That act prohibits discrimination in public accommodations, employment and housing based on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin and ancestry.

Judy Smith, state director of Concerned Women for America, spoke against the bill, saying that civil rights should be used to protect people with visible and unchangeable characteristics. She said homosexuality is a chosen behavior.

Smith also argued that homosexuals aren’t politically powerless and generally earn more than heterosexuals.

“They don’t need protection because they have money?” asked Brungardt.

In addition to Smith, state Rep. Jan Pauls, R-Hutchinson, testified against the bill.

Those who spoke in favor were Irigonegaray, Maggie Childs, chair of the Kansas Equality Coalition, Cora Holt of Manhattan, who said she lost her job as a private college teacher because she is a lesbian, and Thomas Witt, a lobbyist with the Kansas Equality Coalition.