It’s legal in Missouri to fire someone or evict them from an apartment if they are gay. Discrimination against LGBT Missourians isn’t against the law.
The Missouri House Judiciary Committee debated changing that this week by adding sexual orientation and gender identity as protected statuses under the Missouri Human Rights Act.
Two Kansas City Democrats, state Reps. Randy Dunn and Greg Razer, sponsored the legislation heard in committee Tuesday, which is called the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act. Both of them are gay.
“Until we pass this legislation, I can still be fired from my job because I’m gay,” Razer said. “The two of us can go to a restaurant tonight here in Jefferson City and be forced to leave because we’re gay, and we would have no legal recourse. We feel that in 2017 in the state of Missouri, that would be unacceptable.”
The only openly gay Republican in the Missouri General Assembly, Rep. Tom Hannegan from St. Charles, also testified in favor of the bill.
“We cannot continue as legislators that favor certain groups,” Hannegan said. “Everybody needs to be treated fairly. Discrimination is discrimination is discrimination.”
Under the current Missouri Human Rights Act, race, religion, national origin, ancestry and sex are considered protected statuses. Advocates have tried to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the discrimination law for more than a decade, to no avail.
Some opponents argue that adding those protections would infringe on the rights of certain religious groups. Alyssa Johnson of Concerned Women for America said requiring protection of LGBT communities would go directly against her religious convictions.
“I’m an Evangelical Christian, and my viewpoint on the matter is that the Bible does not condone homosexual lifestyles,” Johnson said. “The government is not there to say that ‘I’m going to disenfranchise this group on behalf of this group.’ ”
But Rep. Gina Mitten, a St. Louis Democrat, said the same arguments were once used to argue against racial equality and interracial marriage.
“Many people have different interpretations about what the Bible says,” Mitten said. “So I’m assuming that you don’t think it’s OK, or that the Bible says it’s OK to discriminate against someone because of their color.”
Johnson also said LGBT individuals should not want to work in a place where they are being discriminated against.
“I’m just saying that people have a personal responsibility that if they’re in a situation that is unhappy for them, they have the right to find other employment,” Johnson said. “No one is mandating that they have to stay in that situation.”
Rep. Steven Roberts, a St. Louis Democrat, said Johnson’s argument didn’t consider those who may not have the option to find employment elsewhere.
“Liberty to pursue other opportunities — just work somewhere else?” Roberts said. “That’s acceptable to you?”
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry testified in opposition to the bill. Brian Bunten, general counsel for the chamber, said they could not support the addition of protected classes as long as current discrimination law leaves businesses at risk of frivolous lawsuits.
“If the bill offered to protect veterans, pregnant woman, marital status, political affiliation, credit history, you name it,” Bunten said, “I’d be here offering the same exact testimony.”
But this stood in contrast to support for the legislation voiced by one of the largest Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry members, Monsanto Co. For years, Monsanto has been recognized as one of the best workplaces for LGBT equality.
Though Bunten said businesses are put at risk by expanding protected statuses, Sarah Baker, the legislative and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, said that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Baker said 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
“The reason they do this isn’t just because it’s fair and just because it’s right,” Baker said. “They also find it profitable.”
With the session nearly over, and with the legislation still stuck in committee, one House Republican, Rep. Kevin Engler, wants to make a last-ditch effort to pass LGBT protections by adding them to a separate bill pertaining to employment discrimination law.
That bill, which would substantially raise the burden of proof for plaintiffs wishing to sue employers for discrimination, could be debated as early as next week. But Democrats hate that bill so much they oppose using it as a vehicle to expand LGBT rights.
“Quite frankly, that bill is so egregious I would hope that we would not,” said House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, a Kansas City Democrat. “There is likely going to be some (Missouri Nondiscrimination Act) discussion as we discuss that bill, but that is not the bill that I want (LGBT rights) attached to.”