As advocates rally, anti-LGBT legislation advances in Missouri legislature

Last month, Missouri's Senate Democrats vigorously fought to thwart the advancement of the so-called "religious freedom" Senate Joint Resolution 39 with a 39-hour filibuster, but were ultimately defeated by the Republican majority who voted 23 to 7 to advance SJR 39 to the House of Representitives. Spearheaded by Senator Bob Onder, SJR 39 asks voters to amend Missouri's state constitution to enshrine LGBT discrimination by prohibiting the state from imposing penalties on individuals and religious entities who refuse to participate in same-sex couple's marriage ceremonies due to "sincerely held religious beliefs."  

Yesterday, businesses, organizations, and academic institutions from around Missouri responded to this anti-LGBT legislation by announcing the formation of Missouri Competes, a coalition designed to stop the passage SJR 39. Google fiber, MasterCard, and Washington University in St. Louis were among the many organizations and institutions to sign the pledge against SJR 39, which reads as follows:

We believe that treating everyone fairly and equally is essential to maintainging Missouri's time-honored brand as a welcoming and thriving home for the best minds and talented workers who want to help grow businesses, raise their families, and explore our world class attractions.

Missouri's policies say a lot about its reputation as a good place to do business. We believe it is important that our state laws treat everyone with dignity and respect, regardless of their race, sex, color, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. 

We strongly believe that Senate Joint Resolution 39 does not represent our values as Missourians, and the measure will damage our state's reputation as a welcoming home and travel destination for job creators, their employees, families and customers.

We believe in Missouri. We are united in our commitment to promoting a welcoming, vibrant and diverse state that provides everyone the opportunity they need to succeed. 

In addition to Missouri Competes, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce released a list of roughly 200 business and organizations that oppose SJR 39 and instead believe in workplaces and communities that are diverse and welcoming for all people. 

Back in February, Promoting Equality for All Missourians (PROMO) and ACLU Missouri released a joint statement condemning SJR 39 and reminding politicians of the undoubted economic pitfalls of such a bill:

The ACLU and PROMO are committed to the priciples of dignity and equality for all Missourians. Let's be very clear: the current rash of legislative attacks on LGBT Missourians is discrimination thinly veiled in "religious exemptions." These bills do not reflect the true purpose of the First Amendment, which already firmly protects religious freedom, nor do the sponsors reflect the true values of the majority of Missourians.

The business community, LGBT rights advocates, and faith leaders have seen the damage LGBT discrimination has caused to the reputations and economies of other states, like Indiana, where the economy has already taken a $60 million hit according to recent reports. We will not stand for this here in Missouri. 

A coalition of Missouri clergy that stand united in condemnation of what they call "discriminatory and unnecessary legislation" have released a statement in opposition to the passage of SJR, objecting the notion that their beliefs are being violated:

...SJR 39 violates our religious and ethical values, and as people of conscience and leaders in our faith communities we repudiate this attempt to cloak prejudice in the language of religious liberty.

Much of the justification for SJR 39 is rooted in the belief that legalization of same sex marriage poses a threat to the religious freedom of clergy, imagining that clergy might be forced to perform same sex weddings against their conscience and religious values. As clergy, we recognize and affirm religious liberty, but believe the fear represented by this proposed amendment to our State Constitution is unfounded. Clergy are protected by the Constitution of the United States, and we can choose to marry – or not to marry – any couple based on our understanding of our faith.

What SJR 39 directly threatens is the dignity and equality of same gender couples. SJR 39 would write discrimination into the State’s Constitution, allowing a wide variety of organizations – including businesses, schools, charities, and hospitals – to refuse to serve same sex couples, as long as they veil their prejudice in religious language. The sweeping language of the bill opens up the possibility that loving same sex couples will be repeatedly turned away from businesses and essential services just because they love someone of the same gender. The bill is particularly insidious and offensive because it specifically singles out same sex couples for this treatment, declaring that they and only they should be subject to discrimination.

SJR 39 does not protect our religious and ethical values: it offends them. 

LGBT Missourians now await a decision from the House Emerging Issues Committee. If approved by the Legislature, SJR 39 would bypass Governor Jay Nixon and go directly to the statewide ballot later this year for voter approval.