TOPEKA — Gov. Jeff Colyer promised to sign legislation that advocates believe affirms in Kansas law the right of foster care and adoption organizations receiving state tax dollars to make decisions about placement of children based on sincerely held religious beliefs.
Critics of the bill argued it would set a dangerous precedent that amounted to state-sponsored discrimination.
The Senate voted 24-15 — shortly before 2 a.m. Friday — for the bill designed as legal shield for faith-based agencies that receive state tax dollars despite declining to place children with same-sex couples or other families in conflict with a church's doctrine.
After two hours of anguished debate late Thursday, the House voted 63-58 for Senate Bill 284. The Republican governor said he would sign it.
"Catholic Charities and other adoption agencies are key to the fabric of our communities," said Colyer, who attended a Catholic high school in Hays. "I look forward to signing this bill because it increases the opportunities for needy children to find loving homes."
A dozen of the 35 adoption agencies operating in Kansas have a faith-oriented underpinning. With protection of religious freedom entities in Kansas law, supporters of the bill said, more could set up operations in the state.
Tom Witt, executive director of LGBT rights group Equality Kansas, said the legislation was in conflict with the governor's promise to prohibit discrimination in state government.
"The Kansas Legislature enacted a law that now requires taxpayers to fund discrimination," he said. "If Gov. Colyer is true to his word about no tolerance of discrimination, he'll prove it with a veto."
Independent gubernatorial candidate Greg Orman said he wouldn't sign a bill that "condones discrimination against any individual or family."
"I want Kansas to be a state that is welcoming and inclusive," Orman said. "Any assertion to the contrary is false."
Sharice Davids, a Democratic candidate for the 3rd District congressional seat in Kansas, said the bill was a blatant display of prejudice.
"As a lesbian woman," she said, "I personally know the hurt these families feel when they are discriminated against just because of who they are or who they love. We must come together and show the Kansas Legislature that we will not stand idly by while they put hateful ideology above the civil rights of LGBTQ+ Kansans and the foster children who need devoted, caring parents."
While supporters of the bill argued the state had to maintain or expand avenues to help children in need of care, opponents focused on the notion the law would contribute to perception of Kansas as a backward state clinging to discriminatory interpretations of religion that blurred lines of separation of church and state.
"Shouldn't all of us be concerned about the image we're setting," said Sen. David Haley, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kan. "It's going to say, 'There goes Kansas. They're going to do something regressive, something discriminatory.' "
The state has more than 7,200 children in its foster care system and approximately 2,400 children in state custody available for adoption.
Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said allowing lawsuits to inhibit groups such as Catholic Charities from providing and being compensated by the state for services to children and families because of cherished religious beliefs was a form of discrimination. He said people irritated by the bill failed to appreciate a Catholic's belief of marriage as exclusively the union of a man and woman.
"Faith-based organizations understand discrimination. So many times, they're being discriminated against," said Sen. Rick Wilburn, a McPherson Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth, said obstacles thrown in the path of the bill illustrated his belief Americans were living in ruins of Western civilization as people turned against traditional marriage. The senator said the political fight on the bill demonstrated a "homosexual agenda" rooted in intolerance.
"There's a big debate here about whether this is about discriminating against LGBTQ-plus. I think I got that right. Or, whether it's discriminating against Catholic agencies," he said. "Marriage is with a man and a woman. Always has. Always will be."