Point-Counterpoint: Kansas lawmakers fight to maintain discrimination

The first thing you should know is that most Kansans hate Fred Phelps, the notorious anti-gay preacher whose church has spent the last few decades obnoxiously protesting at the funerals of soldiers, politicians and other innocents in order to spread his homophobic views as widely as possible.

The second thing you should know is this: If a "religious freedom" bill passes the Kansas legislature in any form similar to the one that nearly won approval last week -- well, Kansas will be tied more tightly, and perhaps permanently, to the Phelps legacy than ever before. You don't have to shout, "God hates fags" at the top of your lungs to put Phelps' philosophy into action.

The third thing you should know is this: The only reason the bill exists is hysteria.

Yes, in Colorado, a gay couple sued a cake maker who refused his services for their wedding. But unlike Colorado, Kansas has no legal protections for gays and lesbians. They have no legal standing to sue anybody for any reason connected to their sexuality. So a bill protecting Christians from gay lawsuits accomplishes almost nothing but whip up emotions on all sides of the issue.

Except this: It sends a signal, loud and clear, to Kansans and the rest of the world, that there is one group -- and one group only -- that the state gives explicit permission to discriminate against: Gay and lesbian Kansans.

That's a breathtaking achievement. And it is wrong.

The original bill even exempted government workers from serving, if they objected on religious principles. Can you imagine a police officer refusing to help a gay crime victim? A firefighter refusing to fight a fire at a gay-owned business or house?

There's a reason Kansas' conservative legislators are attempting to push a bill that makes second-class citizens out of the state's gays and lesbians: They know they are losing the cultural battle. More than ever, they're demonstrating why they should lose. But at least they're making Fred Phelps proud.

Joel Mathis is associate editor of Philadelphia Magazine and the liberal voice of McClatchy Tribune's Red-Blue America feature. Email, joelmathis@gmail.com. Web site, www.facebook.com/benandjoel.