How would religious freedom bill affect gay marriages in Missouri?

The proposed law is the latest attempt to solidify religious liberties of individuals opposed to same-sex marriage at the state level following a landmark US Supreme Court ruling.

David Lieb/AP
Missouri Senate majority leader Mike Kehoe talks with reporters as Republican Sen. Bob Onder looks on Wednesday at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City after Republican senators used a rare procedural move to shut off a Democratic filibuster and force a vote Wednesday on a proposed state constitutional amendment that would prohibit government penalties against some businesses and individuals who cite religious beliefs while declining to provide wedding-related services to same-sex couples.

Despite a Democratic filibuster of more than 30 hours, Republican lawmakers in the Missouri State Senate were able to advance a proposal that would strengthen protections for people opposed to same-sex marriages based on religious beliefs.

The bill, which passed through the Senate Wednesday, would be forwarded to the Missouri House following another vote in the Senate before being put before the state’s voters. The proposed law marks further pushback in the debate over religious freedom in the wake of last year's US Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges ruling that effectively legalized same-sex marriage across the United States.

The 2015 ruling, welcomed by civil rights and gay advocates, was slammed by many conservative and religious figures around the country as interfering with the right to freedom of religion. After the ruling, those opposed to same-sex marriage on religious grounds can be forced to perform certain actions they don’t agree with, or could have their businesses or organizations impacted.

“[T]he opinion, unintentionally I think, launched a number of grenades that are still in the air,” attorney Gene Schaerr said in a Heritage Foundation analysis of the landmark decision.

Before this week’s proceeding in Missouri, several other states had attempted to counter the effects of the Supreme Court ruling with laws aimed at protecting religious opinions despite the legality of gay marriage. So-called pastor protection laws introduced in Florida, Texas, and Tennessee were drafted to keep pastors from being compelled to preside over a marriage ceremony for couples they don’t want to.

And in the judicial system, figures from judges to clerks have fought against introducing gay marriage into the legal structure. Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, for example, defied the Supreme Court ruling by ordering that probate judges in his state not issue marriage licenses that ran against Alabama marriage protection laws aimed at preventing gay marriages. And Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis notably defied orders to issue marriage licenses to gay couples in her jurisdiction.

The Missouri legislation, if passed, would allow religious organizations and individuals protections based on their “sincere religious belief concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex.” The bill states that penalties would not be issued to religious leaders who decide not to officiate a same-sex marriage, places of worship that decline to hold a same-sex wedding, and people who either do not wish to participate in or “provide goods or services of expressional or artistic creation” to a same-sex marriage ceremony.

“No one should be compelled to make a work with their own hands that's offensive to their beliefs,” one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Bob Onder, said during debate according to The Associated Press.

“We are fighting for fairness and the right for people to freely live out their faith while not infringing on the rights of others,” he said, per Reuters.

The measure would not affect gay people's ability to procure a marriage license or receive marital benefits.

Despite the longest filibuster Missouri’s legislature had seen since a 38-hour campaign in 1999, the state’s Democrats were forced into a vote for the bill by a rare procedure employed by Republicans to move the process along. Missouri’s House and Senate are both controlled by Republicans, and Democrats warn that the passage of the law could adversely affect the state’s reputation and commerce.

“The most offensive thing is that it would put discriminatory language into the constitution of the state. But it would also put general revenue of the state at risk,” Democratic Senate minority leader Joe Keaveny told Reuters.

This report contains material from Reuters and The Associated Press.

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