TOPEKA, Kan. — Gay rights supporters in Kansas demanded Friday that Gov. Sam Brownback cancel his plans to participate in an August prayer rally in Texas organized by a conservative evangelical Christian group.
About 30 people participated Friday in a rally at the Statehouse organized by the Kansas Equality Coalition. Many of them later went to Brownback's office to present a letter, saying that participation in the Aug. 6 rally in Houston "condones a view that relegates us to being less than second-class citizens."
But Brownback, who accepted an invitation from fellow Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas to attend the event, was not in his Statehouse office.
The rally featured former Lt. Dan Choi, who was discharged from the U.S. Army two years ago under the military's to-be-repealed "don't ask, don't tell" policy that has prevented gays and lesbians who are open about their sexual orientation from serving. Choi said he is putting Brownback on notice.
"So long as anybody is discriminated (against) in this country, in this state, in our communities, you as a representative of this government, are responsible," Choi said. "We will hold you responsible so long as this country remains on this earth."
The Kansas Equality Coalition also is angry with Brownback because he has not advocated repeal of a largely unenforced state law that criminalizes gay sex. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2003 declared such criminal sodomy laws unconstitutional, but Kansas has yet to remove its statute from the books.
Brownback is a longtime opponent of gay marriage who often criticized what he called "activist" judges during a 14-year career in Congress before being elected governor last year. Some of his strongest political support has come from conservative Christian evangelicals.
Spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said Brownback will go to the prayer rally if his schedule permits.
As for the coalition's protest, she said, "Governor Brownback supports the civil rights of all Americans. That includes the right to protest peacefully and to worship freely."
The event in Houston is organized by the American Family Association, a Tupelo, Miss., group best known for objecting to what it sees as indecency on television. The group strongly opposes gay marriage and protests actions it views as promoting homosexuality.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, in Montgomery, Ala., considers the association a hate group because of comments the organization and its representatives have made about homosexuality and gays and lesbians.
The association says it is fighting for traditional values. Eric Bearse, a spokesman for the event, called "The Response," said criticism is "quite common and expected," attributing it to "forces of secularism."
"This event has nothing to do with gay rights," he said. "It's open to all, and we will pray for all. It's to seek godly solutions to crises — the many crises — facing our country."
But the Kansas Equality Coalition argued that Brownback is aligning himself with a group responsible for attacks on gays and lesbians that are "appalling beyond description."
"We are here to stand up for our rights," said Tom Witt, the coalition's chairman.
Kansas Equality Coalition: http://www.kansasequalitycoalition.org/
American Family Association: http://www.afa.net/
Kansas governor: https://governor.ks.gov/