The Bill That (Almost) Legalized Anti-Gay Discrimination
Kansas’ House of Representatives approved a bill last week that would allow businesses and individuals to deny services from restaurant service to medical care to same-sex couples. The bill, which passed in the House 72-49 on Feb. 12, protected this discrimination on the basis of supporting religious freedom.
It took less than a week for the bill to be considered dead, but the fact that it was able to pass in one of the state’s legislative chambers is indicative of the challenges same-sex couples and civil liberties advocates face in the state. Gay rights activist Sarah Meade lamented that, “Even if the Supreme Court were to declare that the Kansas anti-discrimination bans are unconstitutional, residents of Kansas could still go right ahead and discriminate as they do today” (RT, “Furor over Kansas bill allowing denial of essential services to same-sex couples,” 2.18.14).
State Senator Jeff King, head of the Judiciary Committee, refused to comment on whether such an anti-discrimination bill should exist. Senator King stated Tuesday that the Senate would not be debating the bill, citing the language of the bill as the reason, saying that it needs to “have razor-sharp focus to protect religious liberties without discriminating against any group whatsoever” (TIME, “Kansas Bill Allowing Businesses to Snub Gay Couples is ‘Dead’,” 2.18.14).
The bill, HB2453, was put forth in the House as a protection of religious liberties. Some representatives now say that they didn’t understand the extent that the bill endangered the rights of same-sex couples. Rep. Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) admitted to regretting his vote, believing that his “intentions were pure, even if [his] actions were not.” Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park), however, said simply “I read the bill, so I voted no” (Kansas City Star, “Some Kansas GOP lawmakers would rather religious freedom bill just ‘go away,” 2.17.14).
Common Core Standards
On Feb. 24, State Senator Greg Ball (R,C,I) will host a Common Core forum at Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Poughkeepsie, giving students, teachers and parents a chance to air grievances about the education standards that were imposed on them in the 2012-2013 school year. The forum will be hosted by Senator Ball, who is sponsoring a bill that would put a 3-year moratorium on the standards until they can be improved (Hudson Valley Reporter, “Ball Slates Third Common Core Forum at Poughkeepsie’s Our Lady of Lourdes High School,” 2.17.14).
The Common Core State Standards is a state-led initiative led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. It establishes a standard for students in grades K-12, outlining what skills students are expected to master by the end of each grade. Its adoption by the New York State Education Department in 2012 sparked outrage amongst educators, parents and students. Many opponents to the Common Core believe the curriculum causes students to no longer care about learning (Greenwich Time, “Explaining Common Core,” 10.5.13).
The previous forum, held at Copper Beech Middle School in Shrub Oak on February 11, gave students a platform to discuss their own experiences with the new standards. Eighth-grader Anuk DeSilva stated, “I definitely think Common Core is starting to take away our identities and conflicting with our ideas… Before, we used to have a lot of discussions, now we get packets and different worksheets without knowing our options.” Students complained that they feel more pressure than they have in the past and that teachers have to teach faster than usual, forced to cram in what is required of them to teach without the freedom to customize their classes (The Journal News, “Students speak out on Common Core impact at forum,” 2.16.14).
When New York Education Commissioner John King held similar forums in Poughkeepsie in October 2013, they were canceled because of the behavior of attendees during the event but eventually reinstated. King’s resignation has been called for by many New Yorkers, including assemblyman Ray Walter (R,C,I-Amherst) (Buffalo News, “Assemblyman calls for King resignation over Common Core,” 1.29.14).
—Justine Woods, Guest Reporter