Kentucky politicians reacted with disdain Friday to an announcement that California is restricting state-funded travel to Kentucky and three more states because of recent laws that California’s leaders view as discriminatory against gay and transgender people.
“I’m sorry California feels that way but it’s their choice,” said state Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, who sponsored the legislation that California leaders don’t like. “It’s still overwhelming to me that 1 percent of the population can change the laws against the wishes of 99 percent of the people.”
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s press secretary, Woody Maglinger, said the ban is reflective of California’s “far-left political ideology.”
“It is fascinating that the very same West Coast liberals who rail against the president’s executive order, that protects our nation from foreign terrorists, have now contrived their own travel ban aimed at punishing states who don’t fall in lockstep with their far-left political ideology,” Maglinger said in a written statement.
The California Department of Justice said Kentucky’s SB 17, which lawmakers approved earlier this year, allows student-run organizations in schools to discriminate against classmates.
LGBTQ groups began raising concerns in March about a provision in the law that makes clear student religious groups can determine rules for membership.
In particular, the law says local boards of education must ensure that “no recognized religious or political student organization is hindered or discriminated against in the ordering of its internal affairs, selection of leaders and members, defining of doctrines and principles, and resolving of organizational disputes in the furtherance of its mission, or in its determination that only persons committed to its mission should conduct these activities.”
Critics contend this could lead to discrimination, allowing student organizations to ban students who are gay under the guise of religion.
Robinson said his legislation does not discriminate against anyone.
“For example, if students at a school want to have a Bible study group, that would be fine under my bill,” Robinson said. “I think they would welcome homosexuals to their groups as long as the homosexuals understand that both the Old and New Testament say that homosexuality is a sin.”
But Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign in Kentucky, said the California ban is “a very real and unfortunate consequence in passing laws that can even be vaguely perceived as being against the LGBT community.”
He noted that the Fairness Campaign informed Kentucky lawmakers when they were considering SB 17 “that something like this would happen.”
The new additions to California’s restricted travel list are Texas, Alabama, Kentucky and South Dakota. They were added to four other destinations — Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee —already prohibited for state workers by legislation approved last year.
California Attorney Xavier Becerra announced the additional states at a Thursday news conference, where he was joined by representatives from ACLU Northern California and Equality California.
“We will not spend taxpayer dollars in states that discriminate,” Becerra said.
California’s legislature last year voted to restrict state-funded travel to states with laws that allow businesses to deny services to gay and transgender people.
California’s law gained attention after North Carolina enacted its so-called “bathroom bill,” which prevented local governments from adopting anti-discrimination ordinances and required that people using bathrooms in public buildings choose the restroom that corresponds to their gender at birth.
The other states added to California’s ban have recently passed adoption-related laws.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this month signed a law that allows child welfare providers to deny services because of “sincerely held religious beliefs,” a provision that critics interpreted as permitting adoption agencies to deny services to gay families. Alabama and South Dakota also approved similar adoption-related laws.
The California law includes exemptions for law enforcement officers, tax auditors and training events that are required for grants.
When asked whether the travel restrictions would apply to public university officials whose teams are scheduled to play in the banned states, the California Department of Justice said “the matter is pending and no opinion has yet been issued.”
If sports teams end up being included in the restrictions, several Kentucky events could be affected.
The University of Louisville hosts the NCAA Division I cross country national championships on Nov. 18 at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer Park in Louisville.
Two schools from California are scheduled to travel to Lexington to play the University of Kentucky women’s basketball team in 2017. Sacramento State visits on Nov. 10, and California comes to town on Dec. 21.
Rupp Arena is a host site for NCAA women’s basketball tournament games next spring.
Looking ahead, the KFC Yum Center in Louisville is scheduled to host NCAA men’s basketball tournament games in 2019. Rupp Arena will do the same in 2021.
Adam Ashton of The Sacramento Bee contributed to this story.