TOPEKA — The president of the Human Rights Campaign on Thursday warned passage of a "hateful bill" could be catastrophic for the state's economy and reputation.
Kansas lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow faith-based organizations to apply "sincerely held religious beliefs" in child placement decisions. In a news conference at the Statehouse, the HRC's Chad Griffin said House Bill 2481 is a hateful and cruel way of excluding gay couples from becoming parents.
"We should be making it easier, not harder, for children to find loving homes," Griffin said. "Limiting the pool of qualified parents for discriminatory reasons harms the very children these agencies are funded to protect."
HRC is the nation's largest supporter of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights.
Griffin pointed to North Carolina as a cautionary tale. Businesses and sports leagues initiated a costly boycott after passage of a bill that required transgender individuals to use public restrooms that correspond with the gender on their birth certificates.
If Kansas lawmakers pass the child placement bill, Griffin said, it will "send a resounding and damaging message to business leaders and companies around the country that this state is openly hostile to their LGBTQ workers, their families and their customers."
Kansas Department for Children and Families secretary Gina Meier-Hummel supports the legislation. Earlier in the session, she told lawmakers the lack of legal protection for faith-based groups weakens the adoption network in Kansas.
Sedgwick County District Court judge Kevin Smith, who is assigned to juvenile cases, said in a guest column the "horrific number" of children in need of care exposes how few foster homes are available. He encouraged passage of the bill because the state needs more foster and adoption providers, not fewer.
At Thursday's news conference, Lori Ross, president and CEO of FosterAdopt Connect, disputed that argument.
"There is no study anywhere that suggests that more agencies equates to more families," Ross said. "What we actually need are more families."
She also said children raised by LGBTQ parents do just as well as those raised by heterosexual couples.
Aubri Thompson, who was in the foster care system from 2010 to 2014, said if families are excluded from child placement, more kids who already feel alone and isolated will suffer further.
Topeka businesswoman Jenny Torrence, who owns NOTO Burrito, Serendipity and Pinkadilly in downtown North Topeka, said she was disappointed in the legislation. From a business point of view, she said, everybody's money spends the same. A sign at NOTO Burrito welcomes people of all sizes, colors, ages, sexes, religions, cultures, types and beliefs.
Micah Kubic, executive director for American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said the ACLU was prepared to "use every option" at its disposal if the bill is passed.
"We believe the constitution is for everyone," Kubic said. "We believe love is for everyone. And we believe love wins in the end."
Tom Witt, the director of Equality Kansas, said he is growing tired of having to fight discriminatory bills every year.
"Here were are again," Witt said, "with yet another so-called religious freedom bill, which is meant to do nothing but demean and diminish the rights of LGBT families and to treat us as second-class citizens and to tell us, ‘We’re going to take your tax dollars, and we’re going to turn them over to these agencies who provide a state service so that they can tell you and your families you’re not good enough.' We reject that as any decent person should reject that."
Witt said he has offered a compromise that would remove taxpayer funding for organizations that want to exercise religious beliefs.
"In the privacy of their agencies and churches, if they want to engage in discriminatory behavior, that’s between them and God," Witt said. "Right now, what they're trying to do is between them and the rest of us taxpayers, and that’s the language we want struck."