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GOP lawmaker backtracks on anti-gay bill after daughter publicly shames him

Kansas Republican Ron Highland is withdrawing his support for a bill that calls gay unions “parody marriages” following an open letter from his LGBTQ daughter.
Image: Rep Ron Highland
State Rep. Ron Highland, R-Wamego, speaks with colleagues in Topeka, Kan on Feb. 22, 2019.Thad Allton / The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP

Kansas Republican Ron Highland is removing his name from an anti-gay bill he co-sponsored after his daughter — who describes herself as a “proud member of Kansas City’s LGBTQ+ community” — shamed him in an open letter posted to Facebook.

“Further isolating the marginalized among the population you serve is far from your duty. Hate has no place in public policy,” Christel Highland wrote in the letter addressed to her father. “I respectfully request an apology on behalf of my family and beloved friends that this cruel attempt at legislation impacts.”

Christel Highland told NBC News on Monday that she and her father have a “long history of writing letters to each other about things we might not be comfortable discussing in person.” She ended her Feb. 20 letter by saying that she loves her father “in spite” of his “flaws,” adding “I cannot, however, condone your cruel actions. Shame on you.”

Ron Highland, a member of the Kansas House of Representatives, was one of seven Republican lawmakers to co-sponsor the Marriage and Constitution Restoration Act, which LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Kansas called the “most vile” legislation in the state’s history.

The bill, introduced Feb. 14, refers to same-sex marriages as “parody marriages” and classifies legal protections for members of the LGBTQ community as “the greatest sham since the inception of American jurisprudence.”

The bill seeks to prove that same-sex marriage is unconstitutional by equating LGBTQ identity with a sect of “secular humanism,” and it argues that such marriages violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause — which prohibits the government from establishing a religion.

The Marriage and Constitution Restoration Act, along with its sister bill, the Optional Elevated Marriage Act, were modeled after draft measures written by Chris Sevier, an anti-gay activist best known for filing a series of lawsuits in different states seeking to marry his laptop.

Following his daughter’s public Facebook post about the controversial marriage bill, Ron Highland told local news outlets that he made a “mistake.”

“The bill that I should not have signed on to co-sponsor contained some hateful language, which I do not condone,” he said in a statement shared with The Wamego Times. “I have asked for my name to be removed from the bill. The process for doing so is in motion.”

Kansas Rep. Brandon Woodard, an openly gay Democrat, said that other co-sponsors of the bill have also begun to backtrack on their support for the measure.

While Ron Highland did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Christel Highland applauded her father’s change of heart on the marriage bill, writing on Facebook, “Now I have to write another letter.”

“I felt proud of him for stating what feels overwhelmingly overlooked right now — that we are here to love and support one another,” she said. “We are better than this.”