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Missouri chamber speaks out against ‘religious freedom’ gay marriage bill

Sen. Bob Onder, a St. Charles County Republican, sponsored legislation that would amend the Missouri Constitution to prohibit the government from punishing individuals and businesses that refuse on religious grounds to provide goods or services for marriage ceremonies or celebrations of same-sex couples.
Sen. Bob Onder, a St. Charles County Republican, sponsored legislation that would amend the Missouri Constitution to prohibit the government from punishing individuals and businesses that refuse on religious grounds to provide goods or services for marriage ceremonies or celebrations of same-sex couples.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Thursday came out in opposition to “religious freedom” legislation approved by the state Senate earlier this month over fierce opposition from Democrats.

The statewide chamber joins its local affiliates in Kansas City and St. Louis — along with businesses like Monsanto Co. and MasterCard Inc. — in opposition to amending the Missouri Constitution to allow certain businesses and organizations to refuse services to same-sex couples based on religious beliefs.

In a statement released Thursday, the chamber said it “opposes adding a constitutional protection for employees who refuse to do their jobs.” It added that the amendment would have a detrimental impact on the state’s economy.

Opposition from the chamber is significant, since the group has historically broken with its Kansas City and St. Louis affiliates in regards to gay rights. State laws outlawing discrimination don’t include protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and the Missouri chamber has routinely fought efforts to change that.

The proposed amendment would prohibit the government from punishing individuals and businesses that refuse on religious grounds to provide goods or services for marriage ceremonies or celebrations of same-sex couples. That could include coverage for florists or bakers, who in other states have faced legal challenges for declining to provide services for same-sex weddings.

Opponents argue this enshrines anti-gay discrimination in the state’s constitution.

“Business leaders understand that to recruit the talent of the future, you have to quit having the discrimination of the past,” said Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat. “This bill sends the wrong signal, and that is not good for our state.”

Proponents say the amendment is designed to prevent those with sincerely held religious beliefs from being punished by government.

“The chamber claims to represent 50,000 businesses,” said Don Hinkle, director of public policy for the Missouri Baptist Convention, “but it is obvious they couldn’t care less about the consciences of Missouri’s small-business owners.”

Hinkle said businesses that speak out against the “religious freedom” amendment run the risk of alienating religious customers.

“For the chamber, it is all about money,” he said, “the conscience of a person be damned.”

If the bill is approved by the Missouri House, it would go on the statewide ballot later this year.

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock

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