Religious Freedom bill draws passionate capital crowd

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JEFFERSON CITY, MO (KPLR) – A Missouri Capital hearing room Tuesday night was packed with people. There were reporters and TV cameras from across the state and country.  The hot issue debated was Senate Joint Resolution 39.  One side believes it will legalize discrimination against gay people and others in the LGBT community.  Steph Perkins is the Executive Director of PROMO. He said, “This is sending a message to LGBT people that they’re not welcome anywhere in the state and that’s unfortunate and that’s not what Missouri stands for.”  Supporters of the legislation say it protect them and their traditional religious beliefs concerning marriage. Bill Lewis supports the bill, “Whatever people want to do that’s their business, but don’t ask me to be a part of it that’s all I’m saying.”

Bob Onder, a Republican senator from St. Charles sponsored the bill. It passed the state senate after a 37 hour filibuster. Now it’s in the house and if approved voters will decide the fate of the proposal which would protect churches and businesses who object on religious ground to same-sex marriage. For example a bakery owner that is against same-sex marriage could not be punished for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. Other states that have passed similar laws have been hit hard economically when people and businesses started boycotting those states.  While LGBT folks fear the resolution would enshrine discrimination in the state constitution.

Some 60 Missouri businesses oppose the bill including Monsanto and MasterCard. Joe Reagan is President and CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber.  He said, “This resolution flips our open for business sign to closed for business sign and that the message were sending the world we don’t really want your business here.”

Larry Lewis is a member of the executive board of the Missouri Baptist Convention.  He said, “We determine everything by what is the right thing and we do that no matter what the cost might be."

If the house passes it, voters may decide the issue as early as August or November during the presidential election.