Kansas bills calling gay marriage a 'parody' copied from activist who sued to wed laptop

The Republican-sponsored measures were called the “most vile” bills in the state’s history by the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Kansas.
By Nico Lang

A pair of bills introduced in the Kansas state legislature this week calling same-sex unions “parody marriages” are modeled after draft measures written by an anti-gay activist who has filed a series of lawsuits in different states seeking to marry his laptop.

The Republican-sponsored bills, introduced Wednesday, were called the “most vile” bills in the state’s history by the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Kansas. They seek to classify the LGBTQ community as a "secular humanist" religion, restrict same-sex marriages and permit “gay conversion therapy.”

THE BILLS

Introduced by seven Republican lawmakers, the Marriage and Constitution Restoration Act, refers to the LGBTQ community as a “denominational sect that is inseparably part of the religion of secular humanism.” The “LGBTQ secular humanist community,” the bill states, “has the gay pride rainbow colored flag to symbolize its faith-based worldview.”

By taking this approach, the bill’s authors are seeking to prove that same-sex marriage is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits the government from “establishing” a religion.

“The state shall no longer be in the parody marriage funding and endorsement business and shall disentangle itself from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) secular humanist church pursuant to this section and the establishment clause of the 1st amendment of the constitution of the United States,” the bill states.

The marriage restoration act also refers to legal protections for members of the LGBTQ community as the “greatest sham since the inception of American jurisprudence,” and LGBTQ identity as a “mythology.”

The legislation is similar to “parody marriage” bills introduced in South Carolina and Wyoming last year. Neither received a hearing.

The other proposed bill in Kansas parrots much of the same rhetoric as its sister bill. Known as the Optional Elevated Marriage Act, it claims that same-sex marriages “erode community standards of decency, unlike secular marriage between a man and a woman, who have reached the age of consent.”

The bill affects both the LGBTQ community and heterosexuals, according to Lambda Legal Law and Policy Director Jennifer C. Pizer.

Pizer compared “elevated marriages” to the concept of “covenant marriages,” which are sometimes performed in religious communities. That status would restrict a couple who opts into such ceremonies from seeking a separation or being able to divorce. The bill “aims to write more restrictive rules into state law" regarding all marriages, Pizer said in an interview.

The Man Behind the Curtain

Both of the Kansas bills were modeled after templates written by Chris Sevier, a well-known anti-LGBTQ lawyer and activist with a checkered past. Many sections of the Kansas bills appear to have been copied from Sevier’s model legislation, which is available in a public Google document.

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While Kansas Rep. Randy Garber, a Republican and the lead sponsor of both bills, did not respond to a request for comment regarding the bills and Sevier’s involvement, Sevier took credit for the two bills and four others in Kansas.

“Kansas introduced six of my bills today,” Sevier wrote in a publicly available Facebook post.

Sevier made national headlines from 2014 to 2016 for filing lawsuits in Florida, Texas and Utah seeking to marry his laptop. In the suits, Sevier claimed if two men are able to marry each other, he should be able to marry his MacBook computer. The cases have been thrown out in all three states.

Even outside of stunt lawsuits, Sevier is no stranger to the legal system. He has been accused of stalking at least two people — the country music star John Rich and a 17-year-old girl he met in a Ben & Jerry’s shop. And after reportedly trying to abduct his 7-month-old son in 2011, his ex-wife filed a restraining order against him. An expose by the Daily Beast in 2017 compiled a more extensive list of his alleged misdeeds.

Although Sevier claims to be an attorney for the Special Forces of Liberty and Warriors for Christ, he is no longer licensed to practice law in Tennessee. He has reportedly attempted to get his license reinstated twice and failed. It does not appear he is licensed to practice law in any other state.

When NBC News called a number listed under Sevier’s name, a man who claimed not to be Sevier answered. He said Sevier was not interested in answering questions about his involvement in the Kansas bills or his law licenses.

'Unconstitutional and Unenforceable'

LGBTQ advocates and Kansas Democrats have criticized the Kansas bills and Sevier’s apparent involvement.

Brett Hoedl, chair of the Kansas City metro chapter of Equality Kansas, called the situation “appalling.” In an email, he said that the bills were “introduced to intimidate and threaten the LGBTQ community living in Kansas," and that the co-sponsors should be "ashamed of themselves.”

Pizer predicted the Kansas bills would not pass. She pointed out that even Garber referred to them as “kind of harsh” in an interview Wednesday with The Wichita Eagle.

If the bills did become law, she claimed they would be found “unconstitutional and unenforceable.”

“Here's somebody suffering from dictionary diarrhea who’s ended up with an incoherent hash of nonsense,” she told NBC News. “It's mostly really sad. The effort that went into generating this nonsense certainly might have been directed to doing something productive.”

But doesn’t mean these bills can’t do real damage, Pizer said, adding that having these kinds of proposals even considered could lead to increased anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

“This is legally pointless, but it's not socially pointless,” she said. “It's socially harmful.”

The lawmakers who co-sponsored the Kansas bills have already begun to backtrack following a backlash, according to Rep. Brandon Woodard, an openly LGBTQ Democrat elected last year. Woodard said some had already called him to apologize, claiming they “hadn’t read the bills” before they endorsed them, but Woodward said the apologies were “too little, too late.”

“If you even skim over the bill, it’s incredibly hateful in my opinion,” he said. “I didn’t think calling same-sex marriages ‘parody marriages’ would do what it has done, which is show that they’re parody Republicans.”

Woodard said some conservatives informed him they had taken meetings with Sevier at the Kansas State Capitol but “kicked him out of their offices” when they realized what he was proposing.

“I also heard that because he’s not a registered lobbyist, he was asked to leave the building,” Woodard said of Sevier.

Woodard said he hopes these conversations encourage Kansas conservatives to endorse a landmark nondiscrimination bill he co-authored banning anti-LGBTQ bias in housing and the workplace. Co-authored by Rep. Susan Ruiz, a Democrat and a lesbian, it has already collected 38 sponsors in the Kansas House. A Senate version garnered 17 more.

“I’ve had several Republicans say: ‘This was a step too far. What can we do to make sure this stuff doesn’t happen again?’” he said of the Sevier-inspired bills. “I told them, ‘Well, we have this bill we could actually use your support on.’”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Rep. Susan Ruiz is a Republican. She is a Democrat.

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