State Representative T.J. Berry (R-Kearney) has pre-filed a measure that would replace marriage licenses with contracts of domestic union. Berry tells Missourinet a controversial Senate resolution that died this year in a state House committee prompted him to file the legislation. The resolution would have protected churches and businesses from penalties for denying goods and services for gay weddings. Berry calls his proposal a compromise that would defuse some of the controversy in that resolution.

State Rep. T.J. Berry (R-Kearney)

State Rep. T.J. Berry (R-Kearney)

“There are many, many, many churches out there right now that will perform any kind of marriage and that’s great. That’s fine but when you take and define it and argue it as a government when it was originally religious, then you start having this other discussion that isn’t appropriate to begin with,” says Berry.

He says he is indifferent about the Senate resolution, which is commonly referred to as SJR39. The measure was sponsored this year by Senator Bob Onder (R-Lake St. Louis).

“We’ve gotten confused between government benefits and religious ceremonies and marriage has gotten caught up in that and it’s created tremendous controversy for lots of different groups,” says Berry.

He says his legislation would still allow the government benefits that apply to all married couples.

“I think what you would see is we would get back to government being in its role and religion being in its role,” says Berry. “Marriage has been, through history going back thousands of years, a religious ceremony not a governmental ceremony. So, that’s what this does and it applies to straight people, gay people, everyone exactly the same way.”

Whether or not SJR39 returns in 2017 is unknown but lawmakers expect it to come up eventually. Some conservatives are not expected to embrace Berry’s proposal, likely saying it doesn’t go far enough.

“Next year is going to be different. It’s the first year of a new governor. It’s the first year of a new legislature. So, will it be the burning issue that it was last year? I don’t believe so. I hope not. I’m hoping that this provides an alternative if SJR39 should come around again that this is a more thoughtful and logical way to deal with a problem that effects lots of people and does it in a way that everyone gets treated the same way. It’s about fairness. This takes it and makes fairer for everybody,” says Berry.

Pre-filing has opened for legislative bills that members of the General Assembly want to sponsor in the 2017 session.

Berry represents Clay County in the Missouri House. He’s also the co-chair of the Kansas City caucus, which is made up of both Republicans and Democrats.