JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri senators heard conflicting testimony Wednesday on whether it makes good business sense to grant legal discrimination protections to people based on sexual orientation.
The legislation remains a bit of a longshot in Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature, but it got a public hearing Wednesday in the Senate’s only Democratic-led committee, where the chairwoman is also the sponsor of the bill.
The proposal would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Missouri’s list of outlawed reasons for discrimination, which already includes characteristics such as race, religion and disabilities.
The bill would create legal protections in both employment and housing, and would expand the definition of discrimination to include any unfair treatment based on a person’s “presumed or assumed” characteristics, regardless of whether those presumptions are correct.
It would not apply to businesses with fewer than six employees or to associations or corporations run by religious organizations, said Sen. Jolie Justus, the bill’s sponsor.
The bill is supported by several Democratic officeholders, including for Attorney General Chris Koster, Secretary of State Jason Kander and city and county leaders in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas.
Article continues belowOpponents included lobbyists for two of Missouri’s leading business associations, as well as Catholic and Baptist organizations. They said the legislation could run contrary to the religious beliefs of some business owners and subject them to a new flurry of lawsuits that may lack merit.
The Senate Progress and Development Committee took no vote Wednesday on the legislation. Justus said she hopes to attach it as an amendment to another bill before the legislative session ends May 16.
A similar measure was approved by the Senate as an amendment to a bill on the final day of last year’s session. That legislation never was considered by the House.
The bill is SB 962.