Last Thursday I posted a piece on SB916, a bill sponsored by state Senator Wayne Wallingford (R-27) that would allow every Tom, Dick and Harry businessman in the state to refuse service to folks they don’t approve of simply by claiming that the individuals in question offend their religious sensibilities. In that post I pointed out that Wallingford’s assertions that the bill was not intended to target the LGBT community were rather obviously specious.
In particular, Senator Wallingford claimed that the bill contained language that precluded its use as a defense in court cases against civil rights violations covered by Missouri’s anti-discrimination statutes. As I pointed out, though, the Missouri Revised Statutes (RSMO) Chapter 213 does not address the type of discrimination that Wallingford seeks to enshrine in Missouri’s law. Senator Wallingford was somewhat ineptly trying to deflect attention from the obviously distasteful goals of his proposed legislation and in doing so, showed that he has little regard for either the truth or the intelligence of most Missourians.
Protections for LGBT individuals are pretty scarce in Missouri – they’re sitting ducks for folks like Wallingford. When I wrote the post, I consulted Wikipedia which identified Missouri as one of the states that forbids employment discrimination based on sexual orientation – but, at the state level only, a distinction that I failed to make (hence the correction). There are currently no such protections for those employed by private enterprises. Missouri does, as I stated in the earlier post, extend hate-crimes protections to the LGBT community, and there is also a federal hate-crime law that protects LGBT individuals.
Folks who are revolted by Senator Wallingford’s effort to pander to the anti-gay bigots, can take heart that there are anti-Wallngfords in the legislature, namely those state representatives who continue to support HB1858, which, in the words of one of those supporters, Rep. Stacy Newman:
… would change the law regarding complaints filed wiht [sic] the Missouri Commission on Human Rights be [sic] revising the definition of discrimination to include unfair treatment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It is wrong that the LGBT community can be fired from their job or evicted by their landlord in Missouri – that it would be legal to suffer that discrimination. The House bill has never been granted a floor debate but every year the bill gains new sponsors and supporters.
There you have it: SB916 or HB1858. It’s up to us to decide – and to let our state legislators know what we’ve decided.
Conservatives have opposed extending civil rights protections in the past claiming that it grants “special privileges” to LGBT individuals. Bills like SB916, though, show us exactly why these laws are so necessary. We don’t need laws to protect heterosexuals qua heterosexuality because opportunistic politicians are unlikely to try to score political points by trying to take heterosexuls’ civil rights away – they’d be laughed out of office if they tried. Not the case for LGBT indivuals – as SB916 proves. We need laws like HB1858 to protect our LGBT citizens from individuals like Senator Wallngford and the folks who put him in office and continue to support his anti-gay antics and those of other folks who have decided that religion can be used as a club to suppress outsiders and minorities.
One could argue that creating a more inclusive environment via bills like HB1858 will help protect the folks who support legislation like SB916 from themselves. It is well recognized that such laws may comprise a double edged sword:
If Christians really believe they are becoming a marginalized movement, why would they want to disempower marginalized people in the marketplace? It’s easy to codify your own biases when you’re part of the majority and get to be the one refusing services to others. But what if you’re the minority? What if others are turning you away because they think you are the abominable one?
Many Christians believe that the Book of Revelation predicts a coming time of persecution and evil. In the apocalyptic book’s 13th chapter, it is predicted that a time will come when Christians won’t be able to buy or sell in the marketplace. If Christians believe this time is coming, they must also ask, “How might such a reality be realized?” Could it be that they are unwittingly becoming the authors of their own demise?
Conservative Christian activists often argue that these bills put us on a ride down a slippery slope that could lead to the government forcing conservative Christian pastors to perform same-sex weddings against their wills. (Never mind that legal exemptions for houses of worship and pastors are woven deeply into American law or that there is no historical precedent for such predictions.)
But these prophets of doom only acknowledge one side of the slope. They fail to consider how these laws could be used against members of their own communities. If you are able to discriminate against others on the basis of religious conviction, others must be allowed to do the same when you are on the other side of the counter. You can’t have your wedding cake and eat it too.
Maybe Senator Wallingford’s bill, which has attracted lots of attention, admittedly mostly of the derisive variety, will serve a good end. It can help to make the case that we really do need legislation like HB 1858. It can also serve to open up a serious dialogue about what religious freedom is really all about and bring us back to a time, not so long ago, when churchmen actually understood that the doctrine of separation of church and state served to protect the churched as much as the unchurched.