Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed an executive order Tuesday aimed at protecting "religious freedom" for clergy that refuse to marry same-sex couples.
The order will protect the religious liberty of those who feel they may be forced to sanctify such unions after the U.S. Supreme Court decision on June 26, Brownback said.
"Today’s executive order protects Kansas clergy and religious organizations from being forced to participate in activities that violate their sincerely and deeply held beliefs," Brownback said in a statement.
The order comes a day after Brownback quietly allowed state agencies to comply with the high court's ruling, so couples can now do things like place state workers’ spouses on health care plans.
Tom Witt, leader of Equality Kansas, said the order was "one part scare tactics, one part ducking his constitutional responsibility."
"According to the order, clergy will not be required to officiate at same-sex marriages. No kidding," Witt said. "This has never happened, is not happening, and will never happen. This part of the order is nothing but political scare tactic."
Witt added that Brownback was "doubling down" on his continued treatment of gay and lesbians as second-class citizens. In February, Brownback rescinded a 2007 executive order by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius that offered protections to gay and lesbian state workers.
Eileen Hawley, Brownback’s spokeswoman, on Tuesday downplayed the move to finally implement the high court's decision, saying it wasn’t a “directive” from the governor’s office. They had been undergoing “a thoughtful process” to comply with the June 26 high court ruling, she said.
“We are a nation of laws and we will comply with the laws of the nation,” Hawley said.
The news came to light when the Wichita Eagle reported that a Johnson County lesbian couple were allowed to change their names on their drivers’ licenses, a process that goes through the Department of Revenue.
Revenue spokeswoman Jeannine Koranda confirmed Tuesday that the agency was allowing the changes to drivers’ licenses, if the couple has a marriage certificate. Just one couple had taken advantage of the new policy, she said, and the Wichita Eagle reported the new licenses were issued to a Johnson County lesbian couple.
Officials also were working on other policies in the department, such as couples’ joint filing of personal taxes, Koranda said.
“It’s a significant task,” she said.
Last week, Brownback defended his delay on changing state policies, saying he wanted “to make sure to do this right.” He also announced he would be pursuing a “religious freedom” law, designed to protect the rights of those who claim religious problems in doing business with gays and lesbians.
Brownback opposes gay marriage and expressed his disappointment after the Supreme Court’s ruling that overturned states’ rights in limit same-sex couples’ rights.