Two controversial Senate bills face LGBT opposition

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JEFFERSON CITY - LGBT allies, lawmakers and religious organizations pleaded their cases in front of Senate committee members at the Capitol Tuesday in hearings regarding exercise of religion.

Two exercise of religion bills were heard Tuesday Senate Joint Resolution No. 39 and Senate Bill 916. 

SJR39 proposes granting "protection of certain religious organizations and individuals from being penalized by the state because of their sincere religious beliefs or practices concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex."

SB916 states the "Exercise of religion", an act or refusal to act that is substantially motivated by sincere religious belief, whether or not the religious exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief."

Several LGBT members and allies attended both hearings, testifying against both bills. 

Cathy Serino, who identifies as transgendered, said, "these are right-to-discriminate bills thinly veiled as religious freedom." 

Serino said, "These bills basically paint a bullseye on us. Anytime they come up with these, the message that it sends to the public is that the LGBT community is fair game to be ridiculed, picked on and discriminated against. We aren't asking for special treatment, we just wanted to be treated equally."

On the other hand, several religious organizations testified in favor of the bills. 

Don Hinkle, director of public policy for the Missouri Baptist convention, said, "Only God is Lord of the conscious not the government."

"We do not believe that the government has any right to come in and force churches or religious institutions to do anything that would violate their deepest held beliefs," Hinkle said. "If they did that then we would cease to be who we are and what we profess." 

A decision as to whether SJR39 will be read on the Senate floor is scheduled to be decided on Thursday, February 25th.

If SJR39 were to pass in both the House and Senate, it would be voted on by the public.