Yesterday, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organisation, denounced a vote of 23 to 7 by the Missouri Senate advancing Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 39 to the House of Representatives. Gaining national attention after a historic filibuster by Democrats earlier this week, the outrageous measure proposes to allow individuals, organizations, and businesses to use religion as a valid excuse to discriminate against LGBT people.
Similar to so-called “First Amendment Defense Act” legislation introduced in other states, this extreme resolution would lead to a ballot measure that, if approved by voters, would enshrine discrimination against LGBT people and their families into the state constitution. If the House of Representatives passes the resolution, it would go directly to the ballot and the governor would have no opportunity to veto it.
“SJR 39 is an irresponsible and shameful attempt by Missouri lawmakers to put LGBT people and their families in serious danger of even further discrimination,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “The freedom to practice one’s religion is one of the founding principles of our country, but to use it as a means of state-sanctioned discrimination is completely unacceptable. We call on the Missouri House of Representatives to listen to the overwhelming chorus of pro-equality voices outraged by this proposal and reject this attack on LGBT people.”
Earlier this week, the Senate Democrats vigorously fought to stop the anti-equality majority with a historic 39-hour filibuster effort that drew national attention and praise. The discriminatory proposal has received widespread condemnation from fair-minded Missourians and businesses throughout the state, including Governor Jay Nixon, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the St. Louis Regional Chamber, Dow Chemical Company, and Monsanto. The St. Louis Regional Chamber on Twitter said the proposal is “counter to MO values & will have negative economic consequences.” Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders also spoke out against the bill.
SJR 39 goes far beyond protecting the right of free exercise of one’s religion. While shrouded in language framed as prohibiting the state government from making funding or tax status decisions based on an organisation’s views on marriage that are driven by religious belief, in reality it opens the door to discrimination against same-sex couples, their families, and those who love them.
The legislation could have reckless intended and unintended consequences. If voted into law, LGBT people and their families could suddenly find themselves at risk of being denied many basic services. Taxpayer-funded foster care providers and adoption agencies could refuse to place children in need of loving homes with same-sex couples. Taxpayer-funded homeless shelters could turn away LGBT couples and their families. Businesses could refuse to provide goods or services to same-sex couples. The measure could also undermine existing LGBT non-discrimination protections passed at the local level, including in cities like Columbia, Kansas City, and St. Louis.
The resolution addresses no real problem in the state as no federal or state law requires religious organisations or clergy to sanction or perform same-sex marriages.