Pressure builds ahead of Missouri religious exemptions vote

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SUMMER BALLENTINE, Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Opponents of a proposed ballot measure that would add religious objections protections to the Missouri Constitution for people who don’t want to provide services for same-sex weddings are pressuring members of a House committee who currently hold the measure’s fate in their hands.

The measure is among several that have been put forth in conservative states in the past year that have been deemed discriminatory by the LGBT community and have engendered a backlash by some major brands. The 12-member House committee could vote on it as soon as Monday. It needs backing from that committee and then another to go to the full chamber for consideration.

Critics of the bill are focusing their efforts on persuading those dozen legislators because if “it doesn’t make it out of our committee, it doesn’t make it,” Republican committee member Rep. Ron Hicks said.

“I’ve lost sleep over it. I’ve shed tears with people over it. It’s not an easy thing,” said Hicks, who says he’ll vote for the measure. “I’ve been here four years, and this is the hardest pressure I’ve had.”

If passed by the GOP-led Legislature, it would bypass Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and head straight to voters. They would decide whether to amend the state constitution to ban government penalties against businesses or individuals who cite their religious beliefs as a reason for denying goods or services of “expressional or artistic creation” for same-sex weddings.

Opposition, particularly from businesses that warn of the potential economic consequences, has mounted since Senate Republicans used a rare procedural move to end a 37-hour Democratic filibuster in March and pass the legislation. Some point to the fallout that other states have faced after passing laws seen by many opponents as discriminatory to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people.

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