California travel ban on Kansas affecting KU basketball; LGBT rights group seeks repeal of ‘religious freedom’ law
Topeka ? There will be no Jayhawk basketball games with the University of California anytime soon, largely due to a law Kansas enacted last year that the state of California has said discriminates against the LGBT community.
University of Kansas officials confirmed Friday that athletic teams from public colleges and universities in California are no longer allowed to travel to schools in Kansas because of a “religious freedom” law in Kansas that says campus student groups here can discriminate in their membership against people who do not share the group’s religious beliefs or practices.
That includes religious groups that ban gay students from joining due to the group’s religious beliefs.
KU Athletics spokesman Jim Marchiony said KU had been in preliminary talks with the University of California-Berkeley to schedule a series of “home-and-home” games. But a new law in California that took effect Jan. 1 now prohibits that.
“Cal said they couldn’t do it,” Marchiony said.
The new California law, passed in 2015, prohibits state-funded or state-sponsored travel to states with laws deemed to be discriminatory against the LGBT community, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has determined it applies to Kansas as well as Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Before Kansas enacted Senate Bill 175 last year, students were allowed to form exclusive clubs and associations. But colleges and universities, including KU, only provided funding and access to university facilities to groups that were open to all students.
The hoped-for series between UC-Berkeley and KU is the only athletics event that has been affected so far, according to KU officials. Larry Keating, special assistant to the KU athletics director, told the Journal-World Friday that there are no major sports games scheduled between KU and any California team, and if any games do come up, he said they would be the result of contracts that were signed before Jan. 1 when the law took effect.
But the California travel ban could have far-reaching implications for other kinds of travel, including academic conferences, government agency conferences and other types of travel.
Now, a leading LGBT rights advocacy group in Kansas that opposed the law in the first place is now calling for its repeal, saying it was clear that the intent of the law was to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
Equality Kansas announced this week that it has introduced a bill, Senate Bill 139, to repeal the campus religious freedom law.
“Although the legislation was silent on the reasons a group might want to reject members, floor debate in the House and Senate made clear the target of the bill was our LGBT population,” Equality Kansas executive director Tom Witt said.
The Kansas bill passed by veto-proof margins last year: 30-8 in the Senate and 81-41 in the House. All Douglas County legislators voted against it except Rep. Connie O’Brien, R-Tonganoxie, who lost her bid for re-election in last year’s Republican primary.
In a statement released to news outlets, Gov. Sam Brownback, who signed the bill last year, reaffirmed his support for the law despite the California travel ban, calling religious freedom, “a bedrock American principle and part of the essence of who we are as a people.”
The campus religious freedom bill is one of several laws still on the books in Kansas that Equality Kansas wants to repeal this year because it says the measures have since been made null and void by U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Witt said Equality Kansas has also introduced bills to repeal the state’s criminal sodomy statute, which makes sexual relations between people of the same sex a crime. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down such laws nearly 14 years ago in a case involving a similar Texas statute.
And the group has proposed bills and a constitutional amendment to repeal statutes and a 2005 constitutional provision that say the state will only recognize marriages between two people of opposite genders, even though the U.S. Supreme Court overturned those laws in 2015.
Witt said that for the LGBT community, repeal of those laws is more than just symbolic.
“They’re null and void, but they’re still used as justification to discriminate against LGBT communities and they need to go,” he said.
“I know people who’ve been charged with the unconstitutional same-sex sodomy statute,” he said. “The charges are, of course, dropped. But there are people who think that since that statute is still on the books, law enforcement should still go ahead and arrest people on it, and it does happen occasionally. It’s just legalized discrimination and it shouldn’t be happening.”