Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican re-elected in November, on Tuesday rescinded an executive order issued by a Democratic predecessor that offered protections for LGBT state workers.
The national gay rights group Human Rights Campaign condemned Brownback's action as "foul, reckless and shameful."
Brownback rescinded an executive order issued in August 2007 by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The order applied to hiring and employment decisions by agencies under the governor's direct control and required them to create anti-harassment policies as well.
Brownback said Sebelius — a Democrat who went on to serve as President Barack Obama's health secretary — acted unilaterally with her order and that any such changes should be made by the state legislature. But Brownback, who became governor a little more than four years ago, didn't say why he waited until now to rescind her directive.
In its place, Brownback said, he was issuing an executive order that would boost state employment-related aid for veterans and disabled people and reaffirm the state's commitment to employment practices that do not discriminate on the basis of "race, color, gender, religion, national origin, ancestry or age."
Thomas Witt, the executive director of Equality Kansas, said Brownback's order was an outrage and erases job protections for gay, lesbian and transgender employees who had trusted they would be safe from harassment and discrimination.
"If you work for the state and have felt comfortable being out at work, knowing you had protection from bigotry, that protection is gone," Witt said in a statement on the group's website.
Brownback has been open about his opposition to same-sex marriage during his long career in public office, which includes stints in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Brownback, who won a tough re-election race in November, acted less than three months after a federal court cleared the way for gay marriage in parts of the state.
Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, said in an email that "Gov. Brownback will be remembered as being on the wrong side of history."
But Brownback's action drew praise from at least a few conservative legislators. State Rep. Steve Brunk, a Wichita Republican, said Brownback simply "realigned" the state government's policies with Kansas law.
And Rep. Jan Pauls, a Republican, questioned whether the change would actually affect state employees. "I would be surprised if anyone would get fired," she said.
The Kansas action comes after the Arkansas Senate this week approved legislation to prohibit cities and counties from enacting ordinances against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which is not covered by state law.