For years, California has had the reputation of being the incubator of policies that eventually become national, from environmental concerns to social concerns to economic concerns. But in the flyover land of Kansas, Sam Brownback is the leader of an ultra-conservative Republican party, purged of its merely-conservative elements. They control the legislature in Topeka, and are bent on taking that mantle of national trendsetter from California. Across the border in Missouri, the GOP-dominated legislature is turning the state motto on its head, by looking west and saying “show me which far-right policies to enact next,” rather than saying “show me the proof that they work.”
Tax cuts have always been high on the list of priorities for the Kansas GOP, followed closely by social issues as defined by conservative religious voices such as abortion, creationism, and anti-LGBT efforts. Perhaps because that whole tax cut thing has caused such a huge problem with the state budget, or perhaps because they believe that in just a few more months or years the budget will turn around by magic, the Kansas GOP is pivoting to the social issues again, this time pushing hard against anything that smacks of facilitating Teh Gay Agenda.
Yesterday, the Kansas state Senate passed a bill that would gut public university policies that prohibit recognized student organizations from discriminating against other students, all in the name of religious freedom. Across the border in Missouri, the GOP in Jefferson City is rushing to catch up to their colleagues in Topeka. Never mind that this was ruled unconstitutional in 2010. As John Paul Stevens wrote in his concurring opinion (the KC Star missed that Notorious RBG wrote for the majority) about a petition by a religious student group at Hastings College of the Law asking that they be allowed to discriminate, what they really are asking for is something else (with emphasis added):
In this case, petitioner excludes students who will not sign its Statement [***870] of Faith or who engage in “unrepentant homosexual conduct,” App. 226. The expressive association argument it presses, however, is hardly limited to these facts. [*703] Other groups may exclude or mistreat Jews, blacks, and women — or those who do not share their contempt for Jews, blacks, and women. A free society must tolerate such groups. It need not subsidize them, give them its official imprimatur, or grant them equal access to law school facilities.
Shorter SCOTUS: “You can believe what you want, but don’t expect the state to pay for it.” But SCOTUS opinions like this matter little to the Kansas GOP, which wants to bring back the good old days when state-sponsored and state-funded discrimination was all the rage.
No, I’m not exaggerating. Go read the quotes from the GOP lawmakers at the links.
The Missouri GOP is still reeling from the unfolding mess surrounding the suicide of state auditor and (moderate) GOP candidate for governor Tom Schweich who claimed the newly elected chair of the state party was spreading anti-Semitic lies about him to his donors. John Hancock, the party chair, hotly denies the allegations, though his denials are carefully crafted to distract from the specific allegations. Perhaps to get away from that conversation, the GOP members of the state legislature are charging ahead on the anti-LGBT front, with eight different anti-LGBT bills under consideration including things like this (HB 1107):
This bill prohibits the enforcement of marriages other than those between a man and a women and prevents taxpayer funds or salaries of state employees from being dispersed for an activity that includes the licensing or support of marriage other than a marriage between a man and a woman. The bill states that an employee of the state, political subdivision, or instrumentality of the state who willfully and knowingly violating the provision is subject to termination. Any active employee who is a member of any state, political subdivision, or instrumentality retirement system who is not vested at the time the bill becomes effective who willfully and knowingly violates the provision of this bill is subject to the loss of benefits of the respective plan, minus the individual employee’s contributions.
Nothing like threatening a public employee with termination and loss of their pension for complying with federal law. Maybe this is a new slogan for the Missouri GOP: “We’re not anti-Semitic — we’re anti-gay!”
Folks outside Missouri and Kansas can laugh, but the disease of state-sponsored discrimination is contagious. Listen to the GOP presidential candidates talk about LGBT issues, with “states’ rights” and “religious freedom” as their dog whistles. Once Scott Walker is done dismantling the University of Wisconsin, I fully expect him to turn his attention this way as well.
h/t to the creative protesters that gave David Shankbone something marvelous to capture in the photograph above, which is used here under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Sadly, I think that a more substantive apology is needed.