Kansas’ newly-elected Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, has vowed to block enforcement of a law that allows child placement agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples and other prospective foster or adoptive parents.
According to NBC News, Kelly said that her staff will review how far the state can go to avoid enforcing the law, which grants an exemption to placement agencies that have sincerely held religious beliefs opposing homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
The law currently allows agencies to receive taxpayer money while discriminating against groups like same-sex couples, interfaith couples, non-Christian couples, older couples, or single parents.
“If there is way to direct the agency to not implement that, then I will do that,” Kelly said during a news conference at the Kansas Statehouse.
When the law passed earlier this year, its supporters — including Gina Meier-Hummel, the secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families — argued that allowing the exemption would encourage more agencies, especially those that are religiously-affiliated, to get involved in the adoption and foster care business. But opponents argued that the measure was unconstitutional and motivated by anti-gay animus.
Kelly, a former state senator from Topeka, was one of the legislators who voted against the “adoption discrimination” bill, which ended up passing the House of Representatives by a slim five-vote margin.
She also recently promised to sign an executive order protecting state workers from discrimination. Former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) signed a similar order into effect when she took office in 2003, but Gov. Sam Brownback (R) rescinded it and Gov. Jeff Colyer refused to issue his own prohibiting employment discrimination.
Chuck Weber, the executive director of the Catholic Conference and a former state representative, vowed to fight to ensure the law is carried out.
“This is not a surprise, that Gov.-elect Kelly would try to circumvent the will of the people of Kansas to advance her own radical agenda,” Weber told NBC News.
Thomas Witt, the executive director of Equality Kansas, told Metro Weekly in an interview that he did not want to speak for Kelly when it comes to what she’ll do in office. But he noted that his organization has been talking to people who could serve as potential plaintiffs in a lawsuit aimed at overturning the law.
“It’s absolutely unconstitutional,” he said. “These are agencies providing a service to taxpayers with taxpayer dollars, and turning away taxpayers. This type of statute has been struck down in other states, and we expect that if this goes to court, it will be struck down in Kansas as well.”
“We’re also going to be introducing legislation in January that would outright repeal this,” Witt added. “I think there are representatives who voted for this in May who wish that they hadn’t. We think they may be persuadable to vote to repeal this.”
Weber told NBC News that the law was written to pass constitutional muster, and will withstand any legal challenge. But Witt isn’t so sure.
“During the floor debate in the Kansas House of Representatives, one of the sponsors of this bill couldn’t even describe what the First Amendment does,” Witt said. “So I’m no sure the supporters have a firm grasp on what is and isn’t constitutional.”