Topeka The future of a House-approved bill that says people can cite religious beliefs to deny goods and services to same-sex couples was in doubt Thursday after Senate President Susan Wagle expressed concerns about the measure.
As a national uproar ensued over HB 2453, Wagle, a conservative Republican from Wichita, issued a statement that said she was "concerned about the practical impact of the bill."
Wagle added, "A strong majority of my members support laws that define traditional marriage, protect religious institutions, and protect individuals from being forced to violate their personal moral values.
"However, my members also don't condone discrimination. If we cannot find ample common ground to ease legitimate concerns, I believe a majority of my caucus will not support the bill."
Wagle's GOP caucus holds a 32-8 advantage in the Senate. Almost all Democrats oppose the legislation.
The bill was approved Wednesday in the House on a 72-49 vote.
Supporters of the measure said it would protect from lawsuits and government action individuals who refuse to provide services to same-sex couples because they believe homosexuality is morally wrong.
They said these peoples’ religious rights are being trampled by recent court decisions striking down other states’ bans on same-sex marriages.
“It’s just a protective measure to ensure the religious liberties we already have will stay in place the same no matter what happens in the future,” said Rep. Charles Macheers, R-Overland Park.
Gay-rights advocates said the bill would allow widespread discrimination against gays and lesbians that would be equivalent to the days when blacks or inter-racial couples were denied equal treatment.
They said that under the bill same-sex couples could be denied being served in restaurants or even that police could decide not to assist a same-sex married couple.
The bill said that a governmental entity could not require an individual or religious entity to treat a marriage as valid if doing so would be contrary to sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity.
Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state's leading gay rights organization, said if the Senate does move forward on the bill "we look forward to working with them to draft language that will protect the religious liberties of all Kansans while at the same time ensuring the dignity of gay and lesbian couples across the state."