Sam Brownback, the unpopular Republican governor of Kansas and an enemy of LGBT rights, will be leaving his post to take on a role as international religious freedom ambassador for President Donald Trump’s administration.
His departure will likely be celebrated by Kansas residents, 70 percent of whom expressed some degree of dissatisfaction with the governor in a public opinion survey. And despite being a former senator, exactly half of the Senate did not warmly welcome his return: the vote to confirm him was evenly split 49-49, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote. Not a single Democrat voted in Brownback’s favor, and two Republicans, Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.), were not present.
Brownback has an anti-LGBT record. In February 2015 he rolled back workplace protections for LGBT state workers, which had been put in place by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
Later that year, he issued another executive order in response to the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide, an act recent he said “poses potential infringements on the civil right of religious liberty.” Kansas initially did not recognize tax filings from same-sex married couples, and, per the executive order, the state could not take action against religious groups who refused services to couples.
Some things never change.
During his Senate confirmation hearing Brownback staunchly defended religious freedom, which often serves as a guise for and creates fear of discrimination.
“You have that right [to religious freedom], and I will fight for protection so that you will be able to exercise your religious freedom in peace,” Brownback said in October.
Not surprisingly, he was much less pointed when asked about LGBT rights.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) questioned Brownback about the workplace discrimination executive order
“Is there any circumstance under which criminalizing, imprisoning or executing someone based on their LGBT status could be deemed acceptable because somebody asserts that they’re religiously motivated in doing so” Kaine asked.
“I don’t know what that would be, in what circumstance,” Brownback responded. “I would continue the policies that have been done in the prior administration in working on these international issues.”
“I really would expect an unequivocal answer on that,” Kaine said.
Brownback also said that his office would not focus on basic human rights for marginalized groups because it’s not his job. KCUR reported:
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) asked about Brownback taking an active role in defending “not just for religious minorities, but for women and for people in the LGBTQ communities.”
That was a no from Brownback, who said, “If you start to veer out of that lane, you get pulled to other topics that other people are charged with doing, you’re going to lose the bipartisan support for the position, which is critical to have.”
Democrats said that despite Brownback’s status as their former colleague, they could not see past his support for discrimination as governor.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said on the Senate floor, “I was deeply disturbed that when pressed during his confirmation hearing, Governor Brownback could not even bring himself to muster a resounding no, that it is never acceptable for a government to imprison or execute an individual based on their sexual orientation.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) also could not see past his anti-LGBT remarks.
“I just think that it’s really important if you’re going to be the ambassador trying to promote tolerance that you show that kind of attitude,” she told the Kansas City Star. “And his difficulty with the question about using religion as an excuse to persecute or prosecute people who are gay, that was a disqualifier.”
On the homefront, Americans have been concerned over the Trump administration’s dedication to “religious freedom.” Last week The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it was developing a new civil rights division to give religious freedom “the focus it needs to more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom.” Civil rights and medical groups immediately became fearful that this would become open season for anti-LGBT discrimination as well as an attack on women’s rights if doctors refuse to perform abortions.
“We may not know exactly what this new division will look like in practice, but we do know that this means they prioritize religious liberty over women, transgender people and others,” Louise Melling, the American Civil Liberties Union’s deputy legal director, told Reuters.
In response to Brownback’s confirmation Lambda Legal, the nation’s largest organization dedicated to LGBT civil rights and the rights of those living with HIV, tweeted that this is just another step in the direction of hatred for Trump and Pence.
Oh yeah, and in his fifth year as Governor of Kansas, Brownback rescinded anti-discrimination protections for #LGBTQ state employees.
Lambda Legal (@LambdaLegal) January 24, 2018