March 27, 2013

Group at Missouri Capitol pushes for non-discrimination law for gays and lesbians

They hope to make it illegal for an employer to fire someone simply for sexual orientation.

While the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing arguments Wednesday about same-sex marriage, a group of Missourians gathered at the Missouri Capitol hoping to make it illegal for an employer to fire someone simply for being gay.

Discrimination against gays and lesbians is not against the law in Missouri. People can be fired from their jobs, evicted from their apartments or thrown out of restaurants for being gay or being perceived to be gay.

For the last 13 years, legislation has been introduced that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in the Missouri Human Rights Act. Currently, people are protected from discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender and age, among other categories.

Each year, the bill has gotten little traction.

Rep. Kevin Engler, a Farmington Republican who sponsored the 2004 constitutional amendment in Missouri banning same-sex marriage, still opposes marriage equality but in recent years has become an outspoken critic of the state’s discrimination laws because they “allow someone to be fired simply for admitting who they are.”

“Very few people in Missouri even realize that’s legal,” Engler said.

Sen. Jason Holsman, a Kansas City Democrat, said it’s important to remind Republicans “who say they care about the Constitution that all humans are created equal and that the Constitution applies to every single one of us.”

Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate this year changing the law, but neither has been granted a hearing. Despite the uphill fight, A.J. Bockelman, executive director of the gay rights organization PROMO, said the time will come when discrimination will be stricken from Missouri law.

“History is written by the victors,” he said, “and we will be victorious.”

A dozen municipalities in Missouri have amended their local anti-discrimination laws to protect gays and lesbians, including Kansas City and Jackson County.

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