A far-reaching proposal in the Missouri Senate would change laws on how religious beliefs are governed in public settings.
The bill from Republican Senator Bob Dixon of Springfield would modify the Missouri Human Rights Act to allow businesses and individuals to decline goods and services, such as floral arrangements or photography, to same-sex weddings based on their religious opposition.
A similar measure in the form of a constitutional amendment in 2016 stirred objections from major businesses and sports operations in the state. At the time, Dave Simpson with Creve Coeur based agri-business giant Monsanto said it would be bad for business.
“The government is not forcing you to sell flowers,” said Simpson. “You went into business in the public to sell business to the entire public. In doing so, you opened your doors to the entire public and you don’t have the right to say I am only going to do business with some of the public. I am going to do business with the entire public.”
Kansas City officials suggested at the time that the proposed constitutional amendment could impact bidding for future events. City Manager Troy Schulte said Big 12 officials had told city event officials that they were concerned about the measure.
“We’re going through the bid process, led by the Kansas City Sports Commission to put together a next round of bids,” said Schulte. “If this issue is still lingering out there, what do you think our chances are of getting additional events?”
Republican backers of the 2016 amendment proposal claimed that businesses in other states were being victimized by efforts to close them down through lawsuits. Republican Bob Onder of Lake Saint Louis said at the time that some people were deliberately seeking out businesses whose owners refuse services in those weddings, in order to file a lawsuit.
A number of conservative-leaning states were looking at measures allowing businesses to opt out of serving gay unions in 2016 and 2016 as gay marriage had just been cleared by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The proposal from Senator Dixon this year has numerous other components that would change the Missouri Human Rights Act in order to protect the religious beliefs of organizations and individuals.
The bill would bar cities and counties from penalizing individuals and entities that believe marriage should only be between a man and a woman. It would also free corporations and associations that are owned or operated by religious organizations from having to comply with the Human Rights Act.
The bill would further allow religious organizations or their non-profit operations to deny the sale or rental of houses or apartments based on sex, sexual orientation or sexual identity. Under the proposal, businesses would be prohibited from discriminating against employees who vocally express their religious convictions about marriage and sex outside the workplace.
The measure also has a provision dealing with educational institutions. It would require public colleges and universities to offer religious student groups the same benefits as other student organizations. The intent could be similar to legislation currently being debated in Iowa.
A bill there seeks to protect religious student groups who claim they’re being treated differently from other groups that require members to align with their beliefs, such as a feminist union or Korean student organization. A religious student group in Iowa complained when it was decertified by a university because after it barred a gay member from becoming a leader.
Senator Dixon, the bill sponsor, has personal experience with gay issues. During his short run as a Republican candidate for Governor in 2015, he announced that he’d lived for a few years as a gay man until he had a religious conversion, which encouraged him to marry a woman. His campaign quickly added that he opposes same-sex marriage and has held that belief for over 20 years.
Dixon’s bill was assigned to a Senate committee for consideration Thursday, coinciding with the final day for lawmakers to file proposals to be heard in the current legislative session.
Dixon is also serving in his final year in the Missouri legislature, having been term-limited after 16 years in both the House and Senate. He’s announced his candidacy to run for Presiding Commissioner of Greene County in the year’s election.