A state House committee heard hours of testimony last night about whether to advance a constitutional amendment to protect objectors to same-sex marriage.
The resolution’s supporters say its aim is to protect business owners and religious organizations who refuse to participate in same-sex marriages from lawsuits or other penalties. They say it’s a religious freedom issue. Opponents say it would allow discrimination against the LGBT community, and say the protections backers claim it would provide already exist.
Much of the debate focused on projected economic impacts – that businesses, conventions, and sporting events will avoid Missouri if voters approve it.
Sponsor, Senator Bob Onder (R-Lake Saint Louis) presented his bill to the House Committee on Emerging Issues. He said the hundreds of businesses who have come out in opposition to his proposal, SJR 39, are “bullying” Missourians who want to protect religious freedom.
“This is quite appalling. The corporations who make their money from folks like you and me and your constituents and my constituents, who overwhelmingly support protecting religious freedom, that they’d turn around and used this against us … to tell us if we protect our fellow citizens from persecution that they’re going to try to punish us economically,” said Onder.
Representative Anne Zerr (R-St. Charles), who chairs the House Select Committee on Commerce, said she’s concerned the resolution is written too broadly and isn’t balanced.
“Those who honestly, due to their significant religious beliefs, how can we protect them without hurting the business community and the perception that we’re a business-friendly … because talent is gay and straight,” said Zerr. “I’m concerned that this will hurt us.”
Supporters questioned the assertions that voter passage of the resolution would hurt Missouri’s economy. Pastor Phil Hopper of the Abundant Life Church in Lee’s Summit said companies make a lot of money in Missouri.
“I just have a hard time believing all these companies are going to pull out over this issue,” said Hopper. “The reality is a lot of these big businesses that are against this, they’re doing business with countries who not only don’t allow gays and lesbians to marry but they imprison them or kill them.”
ACLU Missouri Advocacy and Policy Director Sarah Rossi also said the proposed amendment is too broadly worded, saying it would impact same-sex couples in more areas than marriage.
She said it would, “allow organizations who claim any sort of religious affiliation to deny my partner and I adoption rights, deny us foster care rights, deny us hospice services, deny our parents hospice services because we are married, deny our children access to schools because we are married, deny our children the ability to put us in an elder care facility … or independent living facility when we’re older, because we’re married.”
“It will impact lesbian and gay couples through every single major life decision that they have to make as a family,” said Rossi.
Many Republicans said the final decision should fall to Missouri voters.
“Let the people decide,” said Lieutenant Governor and gubernatorial candidate Peter Kinder.
Representative Bill Lant (R-Pineville) said it would be the “height of arrogance” for the legislature not to send the question on to voters.
“We’ve heard some extremely powerful testimony on both sides of this thing,” said Lant. “The bottom line here is the people of Missouri need to make this decision.”
Representative John Rizzo (D-Kansas City) told Onder and others wanting the issue to reach the ballot, “be careful what you ask for.”
“We all know this is a political game. This is get your ‘base’ out,” said Rizzo. “I look out there tonight and I see people that are going to be vehemently opposed to this, and in November, you want to make sure Hillary Clinton gets in the White House? This might help.”
Some legislators discussed amending the proposal to narrow its focus or remove protections for the business community, but Onder and other supporters oppose the House making any changes. The resolution was the subject of a more than day-and-a-half long filibuster in the Senate and several days of business there being slowed by Democrats after Republicans forced a vote on it. They say sending it back to the Senate would effectively kill it.
The committee’s chairman, Representative Elijah Haahr (R-Springfield), said he could hold a vote on it Wednesday but called that “unlikely,” noting the amount of testimony that the committee had to consider – some of that written that was delivered after the 4-hour formal hearing adjourned.
Haahr and several other representatives stayed nearly another hour hearing from those who didn’t get to testify before the final gavel.