Protesters rally against 'religious freedoms' bill




KU Statehouse Wire Service

Protesters lined the sidewalks facing the Kansas Statehouse, battling freezing temperatures as they contested a "religious freedoms" bill that recently passed a House vote.

The discussion surrounding House Bill 2453 has snowballed, gaining national media attention, as the bill would allow individuals and businesses to deny marriage-related services that would conflict with "sincerely held religious beliefs."

Opponents of the bill said it was a license to discriminate. Legislators worried that the bill's broad language would create unintended consequences. Soon after, Sen. President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, issued a statement saying that the bill did not have the support of the Senate majority, and that she had "... grown concerned about the practical impact of the bill."

With a similar bill passed in Arizona — though still unsigned — and several others proposed across the nation, opponents worry that a revised version of HB2453 may reappear in the Statehouse. Just last week, the neighboring state of Missouri proposed similar legislation. So, dozens of students, couples both young and old, children and parents donned their winter coats and protested outside, as snowflakes drifted from the sky.

"The fight isn't over. There are still people in that building right across the street who want this bill to pass," said Ryan Wilks, a painter from Overland Park who helped organize the protest. "There are 13 states that are trying to pass similar bills right now, and we need to make a statement that the people will rally. This is democracy. The most American thing we can do is protest this."

Wilks and University of Missouri-Kansas City student Jen Harris used social media to spread the word about the protest. While more than 806 people joined the event on Facebook, a smaller crowd manned megaphones outside the Statehouse on Tuesday morning. Later in the day, members of the Equality Kansas Coalition, ACLU Kansas and other organizations spoke, along with several representatives who voted against the bill. "We want to bring attention to legislators and the governor, and let them know there are citizens that are concerned and do not agree with discrimination of any kind," said Gary Martens, with Equality Kansas.

Protestors marched up and down the block, carrying brightly colored signs saying "Somewhere over the rainbow, we're all equal," and "Gay rights are human rights." Occasionally, they paused to share personal stories about coming out in Kansas, or the stories of their children, brothers, sisters and friends, some of whom left the state due to restrictions on gay marriage.

"My name's David. I'm from Topeka. Paul, my lover, and I have been together for about 20 years. We're not moving," said David Pomeroy, who works as a teacher in Topeka.

Others drove in to contribute to the dialogue. Amy Britain, who currently lives with her partner in Rochester, Minn., drove to Topeka to represent her home state in the national discussion.

"I was raised in Kansas; I came out in Kansas," Britain said. "People's faith is wonderful, but it shouldn't have anything to do with our law. People forget that there is a separation of church and state."

With the overwhelming response from local businesses, residents and advocates across the nation, it's unlikely that HB2453 is going anywhere soon.

"Our gay agenda is to feed the dog, buy milk and love our neighbors, things like that," Britain added.

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