March 24, 2016; Kansas City Star
Readers may recall the reaction last year to Indiana’s passage of the Religious Freedom Law, the subsequent threats of divestment, and Indiana’s eventual revision of the law. But that has not stopped other states from taking up near-identical measures.
The California Endowment, one of the groups which spoke out on the Indiana law, sent letters to four Georgia-based corporations last week in response to the “Religious Liberty” bill passed by the Georgia Legislature earlier this month, informing them that it may withdraw investments from the state if the measure is enacted. Further, a multitude of other entities oppose the bill, including Salesforce, Disney, Unilever, Intel, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, as well as Georgia Prospers, a business coalition of more than 480 companies that counts in its ranks Coca-Cola, Delta, Home Depot, UPS, and Marriott.
Regardless, Missouri has a similar measure that is progressing on a track to go before voters in ballot form as a constitutional amendment. The amendment, which awaits passage by the state senate before it goes on a spring ballot, “prohibits the state from imposing penalties on individuals and religious entities who refuse to participate in same sex marriage ceremonies due to sincerely held religious beliefs.” If it passes, Missouri will join a growing number of states that have chosen to give the LGBTQ community a very special status, one unlike any other. Their rights as citizens can be violated when anyone claims their religious belief instructs them to do so!
In a state where sexual orientation is not specifically protected under existing non-discrimination laws, this amendment would specifically give constitutional support of those who wish to discriminate. The state would be prohibited “from imposing a penalty on a religious organization who acts in accordance with a sincere religious belief concerning same sex marriage, which includes the refusal to perform a same sex marriage ceremony or allow a same sex wedding ceremony to be performed on the religious organization’s property.” The state cannot penalize “an individual who declines, due to sincere religious beliefs, to provide goods of expressional or artistic creation for a same-sex wedding or wedding reception. […] Further, nothing in this resolution shall create a cause of action against a private employer by an employee for termination related to the employee’s religious beliefs concerning same sex marriage. Persons protected by this resolution may use the law as a claim or defense in a legal proceeding regardless of whether the state is a party in the dispute.”
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If approved, this amendment would overrule local governments that have enacted local ordinances barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Proponents of the amendment view the impact of the amendment from only one perspective. Don Hinkle, director of public policy for the Missouri Baptist Convention, which has lobbied for the amendment, told the Kansas City Star:
We hear people screaming about discrimination. This bill doesn’t discriminate against anybody. As a southern Baptist, I love (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people. I do not want them discriminated against. I don’t want them ridiculed or hurt in any way. This bill is simply asking everyone to live and let live. […] Those who accuse proponents of the “religious freedom” amendment of bigotry are engaging in “demagoguery.” […] It’s certainly not fair. It’s a gross mischaracterization. We are all equal under the law. But we will not yield our conscience to the government or any manmade group, because God is the only lord of our conscience.
ACLU attorney Sarah Rossi contends that the measure is “enshrining discrimination in the constitution.”
The question of whether any level of discrimination is acceptable remains—and not just regarding sexual orientation, the current test arena. It seems that Missouri’s legislature wishes to grease a very steep slope where a religious majority can seek protect its right to bigotry.—Martin Levine and Ruth McCambridge