Missouri Democrats try again to ban LGBT discrimination

Gov. Jay Nixon (D-Mo.)

Gov. Jay Nixon (D-Mo.) AP

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, used his final State of the State address this past week to implore lawmakers to bar discrimination against LGBT people, but leaders in the Republican-dominated Legislature say that’s unlikely to happen before Nixon leaves office.

It appears more likely that lawmakers will strengthen Missouri’s religious objections laws, which protect people’s right to act in accordance with their religious beliefs, even if that means discriminating against non-protected groups such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“I don’t think it has much chance,” House Majority Leader Mike Cierpiot said of nondiscrimination legislation in his chamber, where several proposed bans are pending.

Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny, of St. Louis, also filed a bill that would ban housing and employment discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

At least 22 states bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and 21 states, including Missouri, have religious objections laws. Missouri law bars state and local government agencies from substantially limiting a person’s right to follow their religious beliefs unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

House Republicans have submitted at least two bills this session that would protect clergy and other organizations that opt not to marry same-sex couples. House and Senate leaders have cited concerns with religious rights this session, which comes months after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized gay marriage throughout the country.

Like the House floor leader, Republican Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard said he doubts the nondiscrimination measures’ chances in his chamber. He cited concerns about adding another group to the state’s Human Rights Act: Missouri currently prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, disability and age. The state has similar bans on housing discrimination.

“I’m not opposed to discussion, and I’m not opposed to the moral issue,” Richard said. “I’m opposed to the legal issue of another protected class.”

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