After the states of Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington all voted in favor marriage equality in the November 2012 general election, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, apparently a bit confused as to geography, declared: "Americans can vote with their feet. If a person wants to live in a San Francisco lifestyle, they can go there….If they want to live a Kansas lifestyle, they can come here."
Just two years later, in November 2014, the Kansas “lifestyle” began to include LGBT couples getting married -- when the freedom to marry came to the state by virtue of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals’ rulings that excluding same-sex couples from marriage violated the U.S. Constitution. Palpable joy and excitement arose in the Sunflower State.
However, things were more complicated than might have appeared on the surface. Not all state agencies were recognizing marriages of same-sex couples, and additional litigation, which is ongoing, proved necessary, even though the 10th Circuit’s precedent leaves no doubt what the outcome of litigation should be. Today, the LGBT Advocacy organization Equality Kansas reports that “same-sex couples are still having difficulty filing taxes, insuring their spouses, changing driver’s licenses, and so on.” Further, not all Kansas counties are marrying couples, although nearly 84 percent of Kansans now live in counties that do, according to Equality Kansas. Check out http://eqks.org/marriage-update-february-9-2015/ for the organization’s latest update.
And then just three months after the state started granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, took dramatic action to roll back LGBT rights in Kansas, especially for state employees.
In 2007, the state’s previous governor, Kathleen Sebelius, signed Executive Order 07-24, prohibiting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender state employees. The Order’s purpose was to ensure that the state “recruit, select, develop, and promote employees based on individual ability and job performance” because the state was “dedicated to the principles of freedom and equality among all of its citizens” and to “foster efficient business practices and ensur that all citizens of Kansas receive the support and services they need.” The Executive Order enabled LGBT state employees to perform their jobs without fear of workplace discrimination.
On 11 February 2015, Governor Brownback rescinded the Executive Order, putting all LGBT state employees at risk. State employees, and indeed LGBT and other fair-minded Kansans, were outraged and distressed. LGBT state employees now fear they could lose the job if their sexual orientation or gender identity became known.
Stephanie Mott, a Commissioner on the City of Topeka Human Relations Commission, who knows many LGBT state employees, explained the situation: “People who work for the state government were already very cautious about public attention. As an example, they would come up to me and tell me that they liked something I posted on Facebook regarding LGBT rights in Kansas, but they were afraid to click the “like” button online on Facebook for fear that it would affect their employment. These workers’ concerns are multiplied exponentially now. These are people who stand to lose more than just their jobs. They stand to lose their homes and their savings if they lose their jobs.”
LGBT Kansans and their allies are fighting back. Soon after Governor Brownback’s actions, State Representative John Carmichael from Wichita introduced a bill in the Kansas Legislature to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s existing state anti-discrimination laws. The heads of the University of Kansas and Kansas State University system assured faculty, staff, and students that they would continue to enforce their non-discrimination policies (which were outside the Governor’s order) as vigorously as ever. On February 14, just three days after Governor Brownback rescinded the order, hundreds of LGBT people and allies braved frigid temperatures to hold a large rally on the steps of the state capitol in Topeka. Organizing continues today.
We look to the Supreme Court to issue a landmark ruling protecting the rights of LGBT people later this year. We hope that decision will help bring much needed job security for LGBT Kansas state employees and further energize the LGBT movement in Kansas which is standing up today for dignity and equality amidst political attacks that have created fear and uncertainty.
PHOTO CREDITS: All photos by Chris Neal, courtesy the Topeka Capital-Journal cjonline.com Photo Slideshow, 14 February 2015, Hundreds rally for LGBT rights at Statehouse on Valentine's Day by Megan Hart