Missouri Legislation Would Refuse Service Based on Religious Beliefs
In what is becoming a pattern of anti-gay backlash throughout the country, Missouri legislators on Monday introduced legislation that would permit business owners to refuse service to LGBTs based on their religious beliefs.
An article in the Kansas City Star noted that Republican Sen. Wayne Wallingford of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, filed legislation that he said would prevent the government from infringing on an individuals right to freedom of religion.
"We're trying to protect Missourians from attacks on their religious freedom," Wallingford told the Star. While he says that the legislation is intended for private individuals to use their religious beliefs as a defense in lawsuits, opponents say that the bill would allow businesses to discriminate against anyone they don't like -- primarily gays.
"It's a legislative attempt to legalize discrimination toward LGBT individuals," said A.J. Bockelman, executive director of the LGBT rights organization PROMO.
On February 20, the Arizona Legislature approved legislation that allows business owners asserting their religious beliefs to refuse service to gays and others, and sent the legislation to Republican Gov. Jan Brewer for approval.
And earlier this week, a similar piece of legislation was introduced in the Georgia legislature, as reported in an EDGE article. This legislation has caused an uproar among gay rights groups, business leaders and even some Republicans. Several days ago, an Indiana House committee shelved a similar proposal after viewing the impact Arizona's anti-gay bill has had.
In an earlier article, Indiana Rep. Eric Turner, who proposed the Indiana bill, told the House Ways and Means Committee, "I didn't quite understand the firestorm it would create."
But supporters of this sort of legislation, like Wallingford, say that "this is trying to provide a defense" in instances such as the current legal fight around Hobby Lobby's religious objection to providing insurance for contraception, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Other cases have arisen in Washington or Colorado where a florist and baker, respectively, refused to provide flowers and a wedding cake for gay couples.
Oddly enough, Wallingford was one of nine Missouri Senate Republicans who joined with Democrats to pass a bill adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's Human Rights Act. The bill died in the closing moments of the 2013 session.
But Wallingford seems to be able to compartmentalize the issues, telling the Star that while "there should not be discrimination in the workplace... businesses should be free to practice their religious beliefs."