Metro Weekly

Missouri anti-gay constitutional amendment stalls in committee

Rift among House Republicans derails progress of amendment allowing anti-LGBT discrimination

Missouri State Capitol building (Photo: Visitjeffersoncity, via Wikimedia Commons).
Missouri State Capitol building (Photo: Visitjeffersoncity, via Wikimedia Commons).

LGBT residents of the Show Me State have gotten a temporary reprieve after efforts to place a constitutional amendment that would have targeted them for discrimination on the November ballot appear to have fallen short. 

The amendment would prohibit the government from penalizing clergy, religious organizations and private business owners who work in the wedding industry, to refuse to perform, participate in, or provide goods for a same-sex wedding or any other wedding that violates their personal “sincerely held religious beliefs.” But the measure deadlocked in the House Emerging Issues Committee on a 6-6 vote, with three Republicans joining three Democrats in opposition, reports the Kansas City Star. If a bill deadlocks in committee, it is usually considered dead for the session.  

“What you witnessed here today was a reflection of what Missourians are really about,” Rep. Mike Colona (D-St. Louis), the only openly gay legislator in Missouri, told the Star.

However, today’s victory for the LGBT community may be short-lived. The Missouri House Clerk’s office told the Star that the measure could be revived if 82 House members vote to move the bill forward. Whether that will happen is still unclear: while Republicans hold 116 seats in the lower chamber, there is a rift between social and religious conservatives, and fiscal conservatives who align more with the business community, which largely opposes the constitutional amendment.

Social conservatives say the measure is needed to protect people’s religious liberty and prevent them from being sued for stating or acting upon their opposition to same-sex marriage. But more practical conservatives point out that pushing such a divisive constitutional amendment could fuel a backlash against Missouri in the form of an economic boycott, travel bans or companies choosing to reduce investments or relocate elsewhere. They point to the bitter consequences that were visited upon states, such as Indiana, North Carolina or Mississippi, which passed legislation that was perceived as motivated by anti-LGBT animus.

The constitutional amendment was initially introduced in the Senate, where the small eight-person Democratic caucus mounted a 39-hour filibuster of the bill, before Senate Republicans used a rarely used procedural maneuver to end the filibuster and push the bill over to the House for consideration. If the measure is ever revived and passed by the House, it will appear on this year’s ballot, alongside the presidential election and the race to replace incumbent Gov. Jay Nixon (D). At that point, the LGBT community’s fate will be left in the hands of Missouri voters.

But for now, at least, advocates and allies are taking the news of the amendment’s defeat as a good sign.

“Today is a victory for equality,” Jeffrey Mittman, the executive director of ACLU of Missouri, said in a statement. “…We are grateful to the bipartisan members of the Committee for thoughtfully listening to the voices of Missourians and doing the right thing for our state. We’re all Missourians and discrimination against any Missourian is wrong.  The defeat of SJR 39 affirms this.”

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