TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas’ new Democratic governor-elect said Thursday that she will look to block enforcement of a new adoption law that she and LGBTQ-rights activists consider discriminatory, a sharp break with the state’s two previous conservative Republican governors.
Gov.-elect Laura Kelly said she will have her staff review how far the state can go to avoid enforcing the law. It was designed to provide legal protections to adoption agencies that cite faith-based reasons for refusing to place children in homes that violate their religious beliefs.
The debate over the law centered on agencies that won’t place children in LGBTQ foster homes. The agencies handle those adoptions of abused and neglected children for the state Department for Children and Families. Supporters saw it as a religious liberties measure.
Kelly, a veteran state senator from Topeka, voted against what she called “the adoption discrimination” measure when the Republican-controlled Legislature approved it in May. In the governor’s race, she defeated conservative Republican Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, and was endorsed by Equality Kansas, the state’s most influential LGBTQ-rights group.
“If there is way to direct the agency to not implement that, then I will do that,” Kelly said during a Statehouse news conference, her first since winning the election.
Chuck Weber, the Catholic Conference’s executive director, said supporters of the law will fight to see that it’s fully enforced.
“This is not a surprise, that Gov.-elect Kelly would try to circumvent the will of the people of Kansas to advance her own radical agenda,” said Weber, a former Kansas House member.
The law says the state can’t force an adoption agency to make placements in homes that violate its religious beliefs. An adoption agency cannot be denied a license or state reimbursement for a placement, or blocked from participating in DCF programs, solely because of its beliefs.
Tom Witt, Equality Kansas’ executive director, said the law so clearly allows adoption agencies to engage in discrimination while receiving tax dollars that the state shouldn’t enforce it.
“There are a number of unconstitutional laws on the books that aren’t being enforced,” Witt said. “The (state’s same-sex) marriage ban comes to mind.”
But Weber said: “We were very careful in drafting that bill, in dotting i’s and crossing t’s and making sure that this would pass constitutional muster.”
Departing Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer signed the measure, and his DCF secretary backed it as a way to encourage more groups to do adoptions.
Colyer took office in January when GOP Gov. Sam Brownback resigned to become U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom. In 2015, Brownback rescinded a previous executive order from Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius barring anti-LGBTQ bias in state hiring and employment decisions, saying such a policy should be set by the Legislature.
Kelly told reporters Thursday that she will have a new order reinstating such protections drafted before she takes office so that it can be issued as quickly as possible.