Maybe the question should be, "What isn't the matter with Kansas?"
The Kansas state legislature is on the verge of approving—and Kansas's Republican governor has pledged to sign—a bill that legalizes discrimination against gay couples. Businesses, individuals, government employees—anyone will be able to discriminate against gay couples once the law is signed. Under the law firefighters could refuse to put out a fire if the house was owned by a gay couple. EMTs could refuse to transport a gay couple that had been in car crash to a hospital. Cities could ban gay couples from entering public parks. Slate:
When passed, the new law will allow any individual, group, or private business to refuse to serve gay couples if “it would be contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Private employers can continue to fire gay employees on account of their sexuality. Stores may deny gay couples goods and services because they are gay. Hotels can eject gay couples or deny them entry in the first place. Businesses that provide public accommodations—movie theaters, restaurants—can turn away gay couples at the door. And if a gay couple sues for discrimination, they won’t just lose; they’ll be forced to pay their opponent’s attorney’s fees. As I’ve noted before, anti-gay businesses might as well put out signs alerting gay people that their business isn’t welcome.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to barring all anti-discrimination lawsuits against private employers, the new law permits government employees to deny service to gays in the name of “religious liberty.” This is nothing new, but the sweep of Kansas’ statute is breathtaking. Any government employee is given explicit permission to discriminate against gay couples—not just county clerks and DMV employees, but literally anyone who works for the state of Kansas. If a gay couple calls the police, an officer may refuse to help them if interacting with a gay couple violates his religious principles. State hospitals can turn away gay couples at the door and deny them treatment with impunity. Gay couples can be banned from public parks, public pools, anything that operates under the aegis of the Kansas state government.
It gets worse, Mark Joseph Stern continues, as the law is so broadly written that it also legalizes discrimination against single gay people too. Even single and celibate gay people. Because individuals who hate gay people get to decide what constitutes support for "gay unions," and since the law makes it impossible for a gay person to sue (thereby allowing for the law to be abused by haters impunity), a landlord could kick out a single gay renter because that single gay guy might at some point acquire a boyfriend and enter into a "gay union" in his apartment.
Religious conservatives in Kansas's legislature argue that the law protects people from discrimination:
Rep. Charles Macheers, R-Shawnee, said on the House floor that his bill prevents discrimination. “Discrimination is horrible. It’s hurtful… It has no place in civilized society, and that’s precisely why we’re moving this bill,” he said. “There have been times throughout history where people have been persecuted for their religious beliefs because they were unpopular. This bill provides a shield of protection for that.”
Discrimination is horrible and that's why were legalizing it. Not being allowed to discriminate is discriminatory. Not being free to persecute is persecution.
Kansas's new anti-gay law isn't just about protecting anti-gay "Christian" bakers from having to—horrors—bake wedding cakes for lesbians. This is Jim-Crow-esque shit. And it's already spread to Tennessee.
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan:
If you want to taint the Republican right as nasty bigots who would do to gays today what Southerners did to segregated African-Americans in the past, you’ve now got a text-book case. The incidents of discrimination will surely follow, and, under the law, be seen to have impunity. Someone will be denied a seat at a lunch counter. The next day, dozens of customers will replace him. The state will have to enforce the owner’s right to refuse service. You can imagine the scenes. Or someone will be fired for marrying the person they love. The next day, his neighbors and friends will rally around.
If you were devising a strategy to make the Republicans look like the Bull Connors of our time, you just stumbled across a winner. If you wanted a strategy to define gay couples as victims and fundamentalist Christians as oppressors, you’ve hit the jackpot. In a period when public opinion has shifted decisively in favor of gay equality and dignity, Kansas and the GOP have decided to go in precisely the opposite direction. The week that the first openly gay potential NFL player came out, the GOP approved a bill that would prevent him from eating in restaurants in the state, if he ever mentioned his intention to marry or just shack up with his boyfriend. Really, Republicans? That’s the party you want?
It is the party they want.
UPDATE 2: A little good news...
A controversial bill that supporters say would protect religious freedom and critics say would sanction discrimination against same-sex couples is unlikely to pass the Senate in its current form, Senate President Susan Wagle said Thursday.