Friday, January 20, 2012

Oh, Kansas. I love you so. Why do you make it so hard?

It's a general rule that if Kansas makes the national news, it's not for something I can be proud of. Today is no exception. When Governor Sam Brownback took office one year ago, he announced creation of the Office of the Repealer. The job of the Repealer in Chief was to pour through Kansas statutes and regularions with a fine-tooth comb, identifying the ones that were unnecessarily burdensome, wasteful, and should be stricken from the books.

When this was first announced, one statute jumped out to me as an obviously out-dated, unenforceable, nay unconstitutional and immoral, statute that should be officially removed from the books. I was not alone in picking out K.S.A. 21-3505 as the obvious and natural first statute to be targeted by the repealer. That statute criminalizes sodomy between fully consenting adults of the same sex. This is a statute I would have found immoral and reprehensible all along as the government has no business criminalizing consensual, adult sex and has no business making value judgments that heterosexual sex is ok but homosexual sex is a crime. But the wrongness of this statute became more apparent after the U.S Supreme Court weighed in in 2003. In Lawrence v. Texas, the Supremes finally and clearly said it is unconstitutional to criminalize sexual activity between consenting adults, no matter what kind of sex or the sex of the people involved. And I, my like-minded progressives, and an awful lot of libertarians the nation over rejoiced.

But the Kansas legislature hasn't addressed our statute, leaving it on the books. Now, clearly no one could be prosecuted under that statute. And I would LOVE to see police try to arrest anyone under this because I'm thinking the 1983 claim would be pretty spectacular. (That refers to federal section 1983, the federal statute that authorizes citizens to sue for violations of their civil rights.)

So when the Repealer this week finally revealed his list of statutes he'd identified that should be repealed, lots of people hoped (maybe some even expected) that our good ol' unconstitutional gay sodomy statute would make the cut.

Well, the list came out today and, no, it didn't. And the New York Times broadcast our shame to the world. I wish I could say I was surprised. But, frankly, I wasn't. Because our governor is a C-Streeter. A devoted Catholic. A Santorum type. We know he supports faith-based initiatives in pretty much every aspect of government services. We know he opposes same-sex marriage, on religious grounds. I am confident he believes homosexuality is immoral, a sin, etc. I wouldn't be surprised at all to hear him say gay sex should be illegal, but I don't have any direct quotes from him on that. So it isn't a surprise to me that he doesn't particularly care about Kansas' gay and lesbian population being made to feel like second-class citizens because our state technically views their loving relationships as criminal acts. It doesn't shock me that he doesn't care about my fellow Kansans worrying that a rogue, bigoted cop or sheriff might decide to arrest them citing this statute as authority. It doesn't surprise me that he just doesn't think there is anything wrong about this statute.

I wish we had a legislature who would just vote to repeal this statute anyway. Because I would love to see if Brownback would have the nerve to reject that repeal. Or would he take the coward's way out and let repeal pass into law without signing it? Or would he step up and do the right thing by signing the repeal into law? Sadly, though, we will never find out because enough of the Kansas legislature is controlled by like-minded religious bigots* who probably secretly want to keep that statute on the books as a protest against those activist liberal supreme court justices who are stepping on their right to criminalize sex they see as icky and immoral.

So Kansas will remain a state where consensual gay sex is technically illegal and my gay brothers and lesbian sisters still have to live with the knowledge that they are less desirable, at least as far as our legislature and the voters who put them into office are concerned. And we will once again make national headlines for something I find deeply shameful. Sigh. It's days like today that I wish I had a portable career and a moveable house. Living within walking distance of Allen Field House isn't always enough to make me want to stay here.

UPDATE: My legislative liaison (aka my friend who closely follows the leg) tells me that the Recodification committee has listed this bill on their policy recommendations, so maybe the statehouse will take it up. Here's hoping.

*please understand I am not saying all religious people are bigots. I am specifically referencing a large chunk of my state legislature who have made some pretty despicable statements about homosexuality and you all know I don't look kindly on that. I just can't name them all.

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