Expansion of LGBT rights looks slim this session in 19th year filed

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JEFFERSON CITY – As the law currently stands, it is legal to discriminate against LGBTQ Missourians.

House Bill 846, also known as the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, heard in the Judiciary Committee this month would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected statuses under the Missouri Human Rights Act.

Although there are nondiscrimination ordinances in some areas of Missouri that include protections, the act would encompass the state as a whole.

However, the act is facing opposition.

“One of my big concerns with this is that it would encroach on people’s religious liberties,” said Representative Bill White of Joplin.

Bev Ehlen, Concerned Women for America Missouri State Director, testified against the bill.

“Those Missourians that have businesses that participate in weddings, whether they are florists or photographers or venues, if they have religiously held beliefs regarding same sex marriage, they could be sued for not wanting to participate,” Ehlen said.

As both the bill sponsor and a gay man, Representative Greg Razer of Kansas City is working to facilitate a change.

“The odds of it actually getting through the entire process are pretty much nonexistent and we realize that this year,” Razer said. "But a big step would be getting it passed through committee so that next year we can come back and say that’s the step we made last year, now lets take it a step farther.”

As a board member of The Center Project, a LGBTQ community space in Columbia, Howard Hutton emphasized the importance of this act being established sooner than later.

“Passing the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act as a state voice would validate and affirm the diversity of our LGBTQ community,” Hutton said.

Razer said he would be disappointed by a final effort to pass statewide LGBTQ protections, which might involve adding them to a separate bill addressing employment discrimination law. This bill raises the burden of proof for people suing employers for discrimination.