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Missouri state senator: Expanding gay rights hurt Illinois’ economy

Sponsor of anti-gay constitutional amendment says protecting religious freedom is better for business

Missouri State Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis (Photo: Facebook).

Missouri State Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis (Photo: Facebook).

In Missouri, the sponsor of an anti-LGBT amendment is defending his bill, arguing that next-door neighbor Illinois’ economy is suffering because it expanded LGBT nondiscrimination protections.

State Sen. Bob Onder (R-Lake St. Louis) said earlier this week that he disagrees with business groups and others who warn of an economic backlash against Missouri should his constitutional amendment be successful, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The amendment would give businesses significant leeway to refuse service to LGBT individuals or same-sex couples.

“We look at states that have a lot of aggressive gay rights laws — Illinois comes to mind, Chicago — and they are some of our economic basket cases,” Onder told reporters. “I really think that these businesses should leave well enough alone and let Missouri voters decide whether to protect religious freedom.”

Illinois State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), who sponsored the bill that legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, rejected the notion that promoting LGBT rights had hurt the economy. She pointed out that if Illinois had similar income tax levels as Missouri, a lot of Illinois’ budgetary problems could be solved.

“If elected officials from Missouri want to welcome businesses to come to their state and discriminate against its residents, that’s their prerogative, but it’s not who we are in Illinois,” Steans said in a statement. “It’s also worth noting that if Illinois’ tax rates were as high as Missouri’s, we wouldn’t be struggling with the budget problems we have today.”

Missouri Senate Democrats previously attempted to filibuster Onder’s constitutional amendment, keeping the clock running for nearly 39 hours before Republicans used a procedural maneuver to end debate, pass the bill and send it onto the state House of Representatives.

Since then, the business community, as it did in other states like North Carolina and Georgia, has largely come out against Onder’s amendment. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry opposes the amendment, saying it would have a “detrimental impact” on Missouri’s economy. The Kansas City Sports Commission has expressed similar concerns. And major companies like MasterCard and Monsanto have asked House Republicans, who have yet to approve the amendment, to drop plans to go forward with Onder’s bill. Yet Onder is standing strong, arguing that the business community’s threats are hollow and that other states that allow LGBT discrimination are doing just fine.

“I believe if we look at states that have religious freedom [laws] — states like Texas, Utah, Oklahoma, Nebraska — we see some of our states that are growing the fastest,” Onder said. “Defending religious freedom is not bad for business. In fact, it is quite good for business.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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