Government & Politics

Parson voted to outlaw LGBT discrimination. Would he sign that law as governor?

Gov. Mike Parson voted in favor of outlawing discrimination against LGBT Missourians in 2013, and in 2017 said a person shouldn't be fired simply for being gay.
Gov. Mike Parson voted in favor of outlawing discrimination against LGBT Missourians in 2013, and in 2017 said a person shouldn't be fired simply for being gay. Photo by Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications

In 2013, when he was a still a state senator, Mike Parson was one of nine Republicans who joined with Democrats in the final moments of the legislative session to approve a bill outlawing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Missourians.

The bill ultimately died in the House, and in the subsequent years the proposal has never come as close to passage as it did that day.

Five years later, Parson is now governor. But would he sign the law he voted for back in 2013?

Parson's views on LGBT rights are increasingly under the microscope since he took over after the resignation of Eric Greitens. That's especially true following Monday's U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of a Colorado baker who had refused to create a wedding cake for a gay couple.

The court’s decision left open the larger question of whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to LGBT individuals.

In the years following his 2013 vote, Parson expressed concerns with adding protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s discrimination laws because it could infringe on the religious rights of Christians.

Yet in a January 2017 interview he gave to the Baptist magazine Word&Way, he said a person shouldn't be fired simply because they are gay.

Parson was asked about "religious liberty in public life today," responding that there is "a huge burden for all of us to protect religious freedoms."

He later added that "one of the things that's always difficult in today's time is the homosexual issue or with those type of issues that come up. I'm old school. I know how I believe. I know what's going to happen to these people."

Parson said being a born-again Christian who believes being gay shouldn't be ground for losing a job can prove controversial.

"And so, if you say, 'Well, look, I don't think you should fire the person because you found that out,' well, all of a sudden people turn on you pretty quick and say, ‘Oh, so you support them,’ ” he said. “No, I never said that at all — and I don’t support them. I might give my opinion to that person of why I think it’s wrong and what I think’s going to happen — what they do with that, so be it.”

Rep. Greg Razer, a Kansas City Democrat and one of only two openly gay members of the Missouri General Assembly, said he and Parson both grew up in small, rural Missouri towns — Razer in the southeastern town of Cooter, Parson in the southwestern town of Bolivar.

“We both were brought up in fundamentalist churches,” Razer said. “I know the governor’s belief system well because I was raised much the same way. While most folks have come to understand that being gay is not a choice, it’s certainly jarring to read these sort of statements made by the governor last year.”

Razer sponsored legislation this year that would include sexual orientation and gender identity in the state’s discrimination laws. It was the 20th year the bill, known as the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, was filed in the Missouri legislature.

The bill was approved by a House committee but never brought before the full House for debate.

Razer said he and the governor appear to agree that LGBT Missourians “have every right to be protected under the law.”

“I hope to have the opportunity to sit down with the governor soon to discuss how we can come together, pass this needed legislation and put this issue behind us.”

Steph Perkins, executive director of the LGBT-rights group Promo, said freedom of religion is important in Missouri and is "already fully protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution."

"Freedom of religion should never mean the freedom to discriminate against others, and nondiscrimination laws must apply equally to all people, so we are grateful that Gov. Parson agrees that discrimination is wrong," Perkins said.

Steele Shippy, Parson’s communications director, said in an email to The Star that the governor’s “theological views on homosexuality are rooted in his deeply held faith, based on traditional Christian values, and strongly opposes discrimination on any Missourian at any time."