Missouri’s legislative activity today offers a peek into the current state of the nondiscrimination debate and the changing concept of what is “pro-LGBT.”
Currently, the Missouri House is reviewing a bipartisan bill introduced by a Republican that would amend the state’s Human Rights Statute to include gender identity and sexual orientation. The sponsor, Rep. Kevin Engler, does not support LGBT marriage but calls his bill a “pro-business” move that brings the state in line with others who have updated their laws.
Yet, also in line with a handful of other states, the Missouri Senate is considering SB 916, another “pro-business” measure introduced by a Republican that would allow private businesses to discriminate on the basis of their religious beliefs.
While HB 1930 falls short of federal standards of evidence for discrimination cases as a tactic to garner more votes, Engler and his colleagues are at least dismissive of religious opposition to the bill. Opponents oppose creating more protected classes when most companies already have their own non-discrimination guidelines.
Sponsor Sen. Wayne Wallingford has voted in favor of employment non-discrimination and sees this as an extension of that stance: “I don’t want to see discrimination against people on the job, but I don’t want to see discrimination against individuals that own their own companies… [this is] fair to all sides involved.”
Though the religious freedom bill has a slim chance of passing the legislature or being signed into law by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon, it seems as though this kind of bill has become a symbolic debate in state legislatures and a distraction from the real work to be done. In a state where an amended Human Rights Law has never made it past committee despite the governor’s support, expressly banning what is not even legal is a subtext used to make a statement – one that Missouri’s own house proves might not be likely to shore up the base, but does generate a buzz.