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Business outcry doesn’t stop Missouri religious objections

Gay-rights supporter Mary Rich of Glendale, Mo., holds up a sign against a proposed constitutional amendment during rally outside the Capitol Thursday, March 31, 2016, in Jefferson City, Mo.
Gay-rights supporter Mary Rich of Glendale, Mo., holds up a sign against a proposed constitutional amendment during rally outside the Capitol Thursday, March 31, 2016, in Jefferson City, Mo. Jeff Roberson, AP

If passed by the Legislature, it would bypass Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and head to voters, who could pass it with a simple majority vote this year.

Onder also said Indiana’s overall economy still is doing well, and that Houston hasn’t suffered economically after voters defeated a broad equal-rights ordinance last year that would have extended protections in employment, housing and public spaces on the basis of race, sexual orientation, gender identity and other categories. The mayor and other proponents had said its defeat could have led to economic boycotts or hurt plans to host the Super Bowl in 2017, but the NFL has said the vote won’t affect Super Bowl plans.

Rep. Paul Curtman, the House handler of the Missouri bill, also said Thursday that economic concerns should take a backseat to religious freedom.

“The Bill of Rights is more important than any business deal,” Curtman said. “I don’t think you should ever sacrifice the First Amendment for the sake of a business prospect that somebody might have.”

House leaders have taken a more cautious approach in recent days.

Richardson, who expressed concern that people’s religious freedom was in jeopardy during his speech to open the legislative session, said Thursday that he expects a “long and full review” in the House. He called criticism of the legislation from businesses “concerning, as it’s been in other states with this issue.”

“The notion of religious freedom is very important. It’s something that we always have to be mindful of,” Richardson said. “We also have a very rich tradition in this state of not tolerating discrimination.”

Rep. Anne Zerr, a St. Charles Republican who serves on the committee set to review the measure, said as a commerce committee chairwoman she’s obligated to consider any potential impact the measure could have on the economy.

“Would this really be a detriment to the businesses in our state?” Zerr said, adding that the House “may need to amend this if there are unintended consequences.”

Emerging Issues Committee chairman Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, said he plans to hold a hearing on the legislation in the next several weeks.

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