News (USA)

Pressure builds ahead of Missouri religious exemptions vote

Pressure builds ahead of Missouri religious exemptions vote
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.

North Carolina recently passed a law requiring transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to their sex at birth and banning communities from passing local ordinances barring discrimination against LGBT people. In response, California-based PayPal ended its plan to hire 400 people for a new operations center in Charlotte. Meanwhile, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday at a meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors that the 2017 All-Star Game will only stay in Charlotte if the law goes.

The Missouri House committee recently listened to more than four hours of public feedback about the pending religious objections bill, which doesn’t deal with transgender bathroom access.

Republican Rep. Jim Hansen, of Frankford, said it’s been a “nonstop” stream of office visits, impromptu talks in the halls and stepping off the House floor to chat with those hoping to sway him one way or the other. He said his inbox at one point this past week had about 2,000 emails. He said Thursday that he’s still undecided.

Big names in the Missouri GOP and sports stars are weighing in. Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, the only Republican statewide officeholder and a gubernatorial candidate, has been advocating for the legislation.

It split the field of Republican candidates hoping to replace term-limited Gov. Jay Nixon, with suburban St. Louis businessman John Brunner and former House speaker and U.S attorney Catherine Hanaway also showing support and former Navy SEAL officer Eric Greitens coming out this past week in opposition. Kinder and Brunner attended a Tuesday rally of roughly 200 people backing the religious-objections measure who then lobbied legislators.

Michael Sam, the first openly gay NFL draftee, spoke to about 80 protesters who rallied at the Capitol on Wednesday, the day a vote had been expected on the legislation.

Committee chairman Rep. Elijah Haahr, a Springfield Republican, said late that night that the vote had been delayed to give members more time to deliberate. He said he’s heard from family members about the measure, which he said “makes us much more introspective and think about where is that balance between the rights of the LGBT community and the rights of the religious community.”

Hicks, along with several other committee members, said his loved ones are also talking with him about the upcoming vote, including gay friends. He said how they will react and view his vote is weighing on him, even though he doesn’t believe the legislation will allow discrimination.

“Am I hurting them at the same time I’m doing it? Yes,” Hicks said. That’s “the last thing you want to do, is hurt any of your friends and family. And we’re doing that.”

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