Thursday, February 13, 2014

Meet Charles Macheers, the man behind the pro-discrimination bill in Kansas

Posted By on Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 1:17 PM

click to enlarge Charles Macheers
  • Charles Macheers
Charles Macheers must be compensating for something.

Maybe the Kansas House representative from Shawnee backed an insidious bill to allow discrimination against gay couples in the Sunflower State as a means get his name out and make up for an undistinguished political career.

Or maybe he has some other, more personal reason.

How else to explain the legislation he drafted that would legalize segregation based on sexuality? Think about what Macheers' bill would do if it gets signed into law.

Businesses could tell gay couples to get lost if an employee or owner believes homosexuality to be a religious sin. Government employees could also refuse service to gay couples. Employers could deny benefits to gay couples or get rid of the employees altogether without recrimination. And if a person so discriminated against filed a lawsuit against the discriminating entity and then lost the case, that person could get stuck not only with their own attorney's bill but also with that of the person or company sued.

The measure is an added insult to gays in Kansas, who in 2005 suffered the indignity of a statewide vote to force a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage - something that was already against the law at the time.

H.B. 2453 passed the Kansas House on Tuesday by a 72-49 vote and goes to the Senate, where it also looks likely to pass.

Macheers insists this isn't about discrimination. To make his point, he's pulling straight from the far-right attention-getting playbook by slapping a thin coat of religious veneer on his bill. He calls it the Religious Liberties Protection Act.

Seriously, this is how he defended the bill on the House floor yesterday, according to the Wichita Eagle: "Discrimination is horrible. It's hurtful ... It has no place in civilized society, and that's precisely why we're moving this bill. There have been times throughout history where people have been persecuted for their religious beliefs because they were unpopular. This bill provides a shield of protection for that."

Macheers couldn't seem to find an example of how someone in Kansas had ever been persecuted for his or her religious beliefs as that belief relates to gay couples, either because he's not paying close enough attention to the state he represents or because such examples don't exist. So he looked elsewhere, citing a case of a New Mexico photographer who was sued for refusing to do wedding photos for a gay couple there. Appeals courts and the New Mexico Supreme Court have upheld the couple's right to sue.

So who is Charles Macheers, anyway?

For one, he's a lawyer. He got his law degree from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan. It's not tied to any bigger university, as most law schools are. It's also not ranked by the U.S. News & World Report, as other top and midlevel law schools are. Thomas Cooley Law School, in fact, has taken exception to what it calls elitist rankings by national publications, and instead conducts its own ranking. That unique methodology places the school No. 2 among all law schools, behind Harvard but ahead of Yale and everybody else.

Macheers tried to run for Shawnee City Council in 2012 but lost to Jim Neighbor.

So he went to Topeka instead, serving his first term in 2013. He has taken money from Koch Industries and various payday loan companies.

He's not in any leadership positions except as vice chairman of the sleepy Joint Committee on State-Tribal Relations, which meets infrequently. Other bills he's sponsoring this year include measures to require drug screening for recipients of cash assistance programs and another bill to require that all Kansas schools celebrate Freedom Week in September, during which students learn about the Founding Fathers of the United States, including teaching of their religious principles.

Macheers' anti-gay bill will cost the state up to $250,000 in legal fees for the guaranteed court battles against it if it passes. Maybe that money can come out of his pocket.

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