The Kansas City Sports Commission believes a proposed “religious freedom” amendment to the Missouri Constitution could cost the city more than $50 million a year in economic activity.
Republican state lawmakers are pushing legislation that, if voters approve, would amend the Missouri Constitution to prohibit the government from punishing certain individuals and businesses that refuse on religious grounds to provide goods or services for marriage ceremonies or celebrations of same-sex couples.
The bill has cleared the Missouri Senate and needs only to be passed by the House to go on the ballot later this year.
Debate, and a potential vote, on the amendment is taking place while the NCAA considers bids from cities nationwide for events in all sports, across all divisions, both men’s and women’s, through 2022.
The NCAA, along with the Big 12 Conference and the Southeastern Conference, has expressed concerns about the proposed amendment and hinted it could cost Missouri future opportunities to host athletic events.
That doesn’t bode well for Kansas City, said Kathy Nelson, the president and CEO of the sports commission.
“Of all years for this to play out, it’s playing out in a bid cycle,” Nelson said. “That’s a major cause for concern. This could impact events held in our city for the next 10 years.”
In 2013, the NCAA awarded Kansas City 16 championships through 2018, more than any other city.
In 2017, Kansas City will host the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship, NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship, NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Regional and numerous soccer championships. The city also will host the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
The sports commission estimates $51.1 million in economic activity from those events and $3.1 million in state tax revenue. Nelson said that if the sports organizations decide to bypass Kansas City because of the amendment, that money would be lost.
“The proposed constitutional amendment will have a detrimental effect on our ability to attract future sports business to Missouri and terminate the millions of dollars of visitor spending our sports industry generates on a yearly basis,” Nelson said.
Supporters say the amendment’s intent is not to promote discrimination but instead prevent the government from punishing people with sincerely held religious beliefs. They point to lawsuits against florists and bakers who refused to provide services to same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide last year.
To its critics, however, the proposal, if enacted, would enshrine discrimination in the constitution and allow bakers, florists, religious schools, charities, hospitals and nursing homes to turn away same-sex couples.
Monday in Georgia, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, under pressure from major corporations that do business in the state, vetoed a similar “religious freedom” bill. Meanwhile in North Carolina, a coalition of civil rights groups announced a lawsuit to thwart a law signed last week by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory that blocks local governments from passing rules to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination.