Editorials

‘We have a God-given right to discriminate.’ Is this the state Missouri wants to be?

Support growing for bill to protect LGBT Missourians, sponsor says

This is the 20th year that the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act has been filed. Democratic Rep. Greg Razer of Kansas City, one of two openly gay members of the Missouri legislature, is a sponsor of the bill that would make it illegal to fire someon
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This is the 20th year that the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act has been filed. Democratic Rep. Greg Razer of Kansas City, one of two openly gay members of the Missouri legislature, is a sponsor of the bill that would make it illegal to fire someon

Ron Calzone, a conservative activist from Dixon, Missouri, had something to say.

The Missouri House Committee on General Laws heard testimony Wednesday on bills designed to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The idea that Missouri law should treat all citizens equally was apparently too much for Calzone, who testified against the legislation. He said anti-discrimination laws enslave property owners.

“I believe that we have a God-given right to discriminate,” he told the committee. “We actually have a God-given responsibility, a duty, to sometimes discriminate,” he added.

Asked if he believed a restaurant owner could eject someone based on race or religion or gender, Calzone said yes. “If a restaurant owner doesn’t want to serve people with freckles, that should be his choice,” he told the group.

Calzone’s views will lead most Missourians to roll their eyes. Yet his testimony was a clarifying moment: In some parts of the state, in some minds, private business signs that say “whites only” or “no Irish need apply” or “no women allowed” are still acceptable, even laudable.

That may explain why the state’s legislature is likely to continue to allow landlords and business owners to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Missouri Rep. Greg Razer sponsored one of the bills that would add protections for LGBTQ Missourians. “I was a closeted teenager,” he told The Star. “LGBT teenagers are five times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. Yet what we get from the leadership in this building is silence and inaction.”

Absent a miracle, his anti-discrimination measure will die when the legislature adjourns May 17.

The legislature’s perpetual silence on discrimination is deeply disappointing. No Missourian should be kicked out of his or her home or denied a job simply because someone thinks a tenant or applicant might be gay.

“All persons are created equal and are entitled to equal rights and opportunity under the law,” the Missouri Constitution says. Apparently the state’s lawmakers missed that part.

But their refusal to approve gender and sexual orientation protections in state law is a practical disaster, too. What 21st-century employer wants to come to a state where discrimination is legal? Lawmakers have effectively posted a “heterosexuals only” sign at the border, to their shame and the state’s detriment.

Calzone disagrees with all of this, of course. “Forcing someone to serve someone they do not want to serve is a form of slavery,” he told The Star Editorial Board in an email.

Depriving anyone of full participation in society because of gender or skin color or sexual orientation is the most fundamental denial of ordered liberty and individual dignity. And it should be outlawed.

The legislature should add gender and sexual orientation protections to state law this year and send the long overdue message that discrimination will not be tolerated in this state.

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