10 April 2016

Missouri's Religious Freedom Bill is Almost There

No amount of filibustering on the part of the Democrats, can stop what majority of the people wants as 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 last 9 March, 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, pushed by the unpopular 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 the 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.