Sam Brownback surrenders: Social conservative warrior gives up fight against same-sex marriage in Kansas

The right-wing governor ends his "thoughtful process" and finally instructs state agencies to comply with ruling

By Sophia Tesfaye

Published July 7, 2015 6:15PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Dave Kaup)
(Reuters/Dave Kaup)

Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback had given up his fruitless fight against the Supreme Court decision overturning his state's ban on same-sex marriage. The conservative has dropped his resistance to state agencies accommodate same-sex couples reports KCUR's Peggy Loew.

Kansas state agencies had delayed updating policies to accommodate same-sex couples when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry. Following the Court's ruling, the conservative governor said he wanted Kansas to adopt anti-religious discrimination laws, similar to laws championed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R). Although Kansas enacted a religious freedom law in 2013, Brownback apparently wanted specific protections for religious business owners impacted by marriage equality. “We want to make sure that people’s religious liberties are protected,” he said.

Kansas passed a statewide ban on same-sex marriage in 2005.

But Brownback's office denies there was every any "directive" from the governor. Brownback’s spokeswoman said the Governor "had been undergoing 'a thoughtful process' to comply with the June 26 high court ruling" but had ultimately decided that "We are a nation of laws and we will comply with the laws of the nation,” according to KCUR.

According to The Wichita Eagle, at least one human resources administrator at a state university in Kansas sent an e-mail informing employees that they would be able to add their same-sex spouses to their state health plans this week. “Effective immediately same sex marriage partners and eligible children CAN be added to SEHP coverage!! The coverage would go in to effect 8/1/15,” the email read. And a local DMV office allowed a lesbian couple of 18 years who wed in March to legally change their name on Monday.

Despite the good news, the state may still put forth a fight against extending coverage to gay spouses under its health insurance plan for government workers. A spokesperson for the Kansas Board of Regents said a decision had not yet been finalized, "We’re still analyzing this and trying to get everything in line."

Brownback previously blasted the same-sex marriage decision, arguing that the "activist courts should not overrule the people of this state, who have clearly supported the Kansas Constitution’s definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.”

UPDATE: Communications Director for the Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment, Sara Belfry, clarified that the state would also move forward with accepting applications for health benefits for same-sex spouses of state employees but this afternoon, Gov. Brownback held firm in his opposition to the Court's decision, signing an executive order specifically to "protect[s] Kansas clergy and religious organizations from being forced to participate in activities that violate their sincerely and deeply held beliefs.” The order prohibits the state of Kansas from "discriminatory action" against any religious entity that "chooses not to participate in a marriage that is inconsistent with its sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman."

“While we disagree with the decision of the Supreme Court, it is important that all Kansans be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve,” Brownback said during the signing ceremony this afternoon.

According to the Wichita Eagle, there was a large gathering of religious leaders who met to "push for additional religious freedom protections" in Kansas.  Brownback's executive order applies to religious organizations and clergy not individual business leaders as other so-called "religious freedom" laws have.


Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Kansas Lgbt R-kan. Sam Brownback Same-sex Marriage