A coalition was joined by more than 60 businesses including some of Missouri’s biggest corporate names. The coalition opposed to state legislation that would defend businesses objecting on religious grounds, to same-sex marriages.
Agricultural giant Monsanto, prescription drug benefits manager Express Scripts, and pet food maker Nestle Purina are among the employers that will join Missouri Competes, that was recently formed, according to gay rights advocacy group Promo, which released the list just hours before a House committee heard testimony from business, sports and religious groups. Dozens crammed in the Capitol basement for the late-night hearing.
The emergence of the coalition comes amid business pushback to legislation in other states defending those opposed to same-sex marriage.
Several states and cities have put a ban on tax-payer funded travel to Mississippi in response to a law signed by the Republican governor last week to let workers cite religious beliefs to deny services to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the Missouri measure, has pointed to Indiana as another example of the business backlash. A public-private tourism group has estimated Indiana’s loss in hotel profits, tax revenues and other economic benefits as $60 million after Indiana Republican Gov Mike Pence last year signed religious-objections legislation.
Leaders of utility company Ameren and BJC HealthCare signed a letter earlier this month against business provisions in the Missouri measure.
Supporters argue the Missouri law is intentionally narrower than laws passed in other states and is necessary to defend some businesses from being forced to violate religious beliefs.
The proposal would allow voters to decide whether to amend the Missouri Constitution to put a ban on government penalties against businesses that cite religion while declining goods or services of “expressional or artistic creation” for same-sex weddings. That would include florists and photographers.
The measure comes after bakers and florists have faced legal challenges in other states for not accepting to provide services for same-sex weddings. It also would shield clergy, places of worship and other religious organizations from being penalized for not participating in marriages involving same-sex partners.
In written testimony addressed to House committee members reviewing the bill, the Missouri Catholic Conference said “no person should be forced to personally attend and participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony if this violates their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Lee’s Summit pastor Phil Hopper was among religious leaders who backed the measure Tuesday.
“We cannot give one group of people certain rights and take away the rights of others that they’ve had for generations,” Hopper said.
Opponents say the legislation would enshrine discrimination in the Constitution.
Hart Nelson, the vice president of public policy at the St Louis Regional Chamber, said in a Tuesday statement that the legislation threatens the state’s reputation and could make it difficult for businesses to recruit candidates for jobs.
Republican Rep Anne Zerr, chairman of a House commerce committee said, “talent is gay and straight.” She also voiced concerns that enacting the measure would harm the state during the hearing, which stretched past midnight.
But Republican bill sponsor Sen Bob Onder said the concerns were “overblown and hyperbole.”
“Missourians are going to resent being bullied by corporate elites,” Onder said. He went on to say that “consumers are going to wake up and start boycotting these companies.”
Onder also cited support from the Missouri Farm Bureau.
The measure passed the Senate in March following a failed 37-hour filibuster by Democrats. If passed by the GOP-led House, it would sidestep Democratic Gov Jay Nixon and head to voters this year.