Leaders of 15 Missouri companies, the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Washington University have signed a letter seeking changes in a proposed constitutional amendment regarding same-sex marriage.
SJR 39 would protect businesses and religious organizations from penalties for refusing to participate in same-sex marriages. Proponents most often reference florists, bakers, and photographers that might choose not to offer services to same-sex couples.
Opponents say it would add to Missouri’s Constitution language allowing discrimination against LGBT individuals.
The proposal has passed the state Senate after being the subject of a record filibuster that ended when Republicans forced an end to debate and a vote. Democrats responded by slowing down business in the Senate for the next few days. Now, the resolution is awaiting action in the House.
The letter is addressed to Representative Elijah Haahr (R-Springfield), who chairs the House Committee on Emerging Issues, which will handle that resolution. In it, leaders of those organizations say they, “understand the desire to protect clergy and religious institutions from having to perform ceremonies counter to their beliefs,” but said that protection should not be extended to private business owners.
The letter reads that expanding those protections, “to individuals and private businesses that voluntarily enter the stream of public commerce sends the message to the rest of the country that Missouri condones discrimination.” It concludes, “We urge you to amed SJR 39 to remove these provisions.”
The organizations say their success is, “based on the ability to attract and retain the best and most diverse group of highly skilled employees regardless of religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation.”
It also cites what played out in Indiana after a similar measure became law there. Opponents of SJR 39 say that law resulted in as much as $60-million lost in Indiana due to travel boycotts and cancelled business expansion.
Backers of SJR 39 argue it protects businesses from being discriminated against based on their operators’ religious beliefs. Its sponsor, Senator Bob Onder (R-Lake Saint Louis), calls the raising of concerns that Missouri could lose money if SJR 39 passes, “fear mongering.”
“I can’t believe our founding fathers would have flinched at passing the First Amendment for fear of losing a basketball game,” said Onder of concerns raised by some that the resolution’s passage could keep Kansas City from getting future college sports events such as the NCAA tournament.
Onder said even if such concerns prove true, that Missouri could sustain millions in economic losses if the resolution passes, “those pale in comparison to the size of the Missouri economy, which is $284-billion, so I think there’s a lot of fear mongering, there’s a lot of exaggeration going on.”
The House handler of the resolution is Representative Paul Curtman (R-Union). He recently spoke to Missourinet about the likelihood that the House making a change to that resolution would kill it, because it would have to go back to the Senate where it already caused so much tension.
He also opposes removing the protections for businesses from the language.
“I don’t ever be stripping away people’s religious rights. I don’t believe that people’s First Amendment ends whenever they decide to do business,” said Curtman.
Like Onder, Curtman dismissed concerns such as those raised in the letter as, “fear tactics.”
“Businesses are just being put in this political correctness trap,” said Curtman. “Being scared to support or be against an issue based on the perception that it’s going to hurt their bottom line or their profit but that’s just not true at all. I don’t remember this being an issue when the people of Missouri voted on the definition of marriage. I don’t remember this being an issue when the legislature passed the ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act.'”
Onder also thinks businesses are succumbing to “political correctness,” in opposing SJR 39.
He said of Monsanto, which is one of the businesses to sign that letter, “Monsanto’s customers are farmers and the [Missouri] Farm Bureau has endorsed my resolution, so in some cases companies are going out on a limb to get involved in this issue where really it doesn’t affect them.”
Haahr told Missourinet he has received numerous letters regarding the resolution and has distributed those to his committee members. As for when his committee will hold a hearing on SJR 39, he said it would be in the, “next couple of weeks.”