Kansas Senate expected to reject 'religious freedom' bill that would legalize discrimination
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By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Kansas (Reuters) - The Kansas Senate will likely reject a bill approved by the House that would allow groups to refuse certain social services and benefits to same-sex couples on the basis of "sincerely held religious beliefs," the Senate's president said.

Senator Susan Wagle, a Republican, said the majority of her caucus does not support the bill on the grounds that it may encourage bias.

"A strong majority of my members support laws that define traditional marriage, protect religious institutions, and protect individuals from being forced to violate their personal moral values," Wagle said in statement on Thursday night.

"However, my members also don't condone discrimination."

The measure passed the House 72-49 on Wednesday. Republicans outnumber Democrats 32-8 in the Senate and 92-33 in the House.

The bill would allow individuals and groups to claim a religious exemption as a basis to deny same-sex couples counseling, adoption and foster care as well as accommodations or goods related to their partnership.

Supporters of the bill say being forced to recognize same-sex unions violates religious freedom.

People working for a governmental entity or non-religious organization could not be fired or penalized for declining to render services based on their religious beliefs, but the bill would require services to be performed by another employee.

Kansas is among 33 U.S. states that ban same-sex marriage, and the bill would address same-sex couples legally married in other states.

Over the last decade, same-sex unions have been legalized in 17 states plus the District of Columbia. The debate over same-sex marriage is playing out in a series of court challenges.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act that barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. The ruling has been cited by federal judges in striking down state bans on same-sex marriage or restricting its recognition.

On Thursday, a federal judge in Virginia struck down that state's ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, saying it denied gay couples a fundamental freedom to marry.

(Reporting By Kevin Murphy and Carey Gillham in Kansas City; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Jonathan Oatis)

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