President Obama recently ordered the opening of the White House’s first gender-neutral restroom in what is seen as a symbolic step by the president to extend rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the workplace. No surprise there – and get ready. More is on the way as emboldened – and often intolerant – LGBT advocates seek legal avenues to force acceptance of their lifestyle on American society. They go the legal route to get what they cannot get at the ballot box.
So far in Missouri, the Republican-controlled General Assembly has resisted passing a so-called LGBT discrimination law that would provide LGBT people with special protections. Like the rest of society, they are already protected from discrimination based on religion, age, gender, ethnicity and disability. Yet bills, sponsored by Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, in the House and Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, in the Senate, are being considered by committees in both chambers. Webber went on Columbia-Jefferson City area television April 12 in an effort to drum-up support for the bill which has stalled in the House. Keaveny, along with Kyle Piccola, lobbyist for the Missouri gay rights group PROMO, attempted to do the same in a lengthy St. Louis Post-Dispatch article two weeks ago because the bill is unlikely to make it beyond the Progress and Development Committee in the Senate. Both are part of an effort by LGBT advocates hoping to create favorable momentum in Missouri following their victory in Indiana in which they – with the liberal media’s help – grotesquely mischaracterized the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and bullied Gov. Mike Pence into stripping-out any religious liberty protection before signing it into a worthless law.
Their attempt to bring similar pressure on Missouri lawmakers does not appear to be working in large part because a substantial number of lawmakers do not feel the Webber or Keaveny bills provide enough religious liberty protection. While churches and organizations like the Missouri Baptist Convention would be protected, there are doubts as to whether the bills’ provisions would extend to religious institutions not connected to a church or to people of faith who own businesses. Missouri lawmakers are acting wisely. In states unlike Missouri, which have legalized same-sex marriage, legislatures have taken care to provide generous protections for people and institutions – especially ones with religious connections – that conscientiously disagree. This is good for civic harmony and for achieving a long-term position of mutual respect.
Government endangers its own legitimacy and exacerbates social conflict when it seeks to resolve moral-legal questions on which the country is deeply divided. Recent public polling is mixed on whether business owners should be allowed to decline to participate in same-sex marriages due to their religious beliefs. An NBC News poll earlier this month found that 48 percent of Americans believe businesses and business owners such as florists, bakers and photographers should be allowed to refuse to serve a same-sex wedding if they feel it would violate their conscience. A February poll by the Associated Press showed 57 percent believing that in states where same-sex marriage is legal, business owners should be allowed to refuse service if it violates their faith. It should be noted that in cases where business owners refused to service same-sex marriages, they did so only because of their religious beliefs. They did not refuse to serve homosexuals in general.
The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson has articulated how this basic view of religious liberty has found a place in our civil law. James Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance puts the point well: “The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right.” Madison argued that it is an “arrogant pretension” to believe that “the Civil Magistrate is a competent Judge of Religious Truth.”
Also to their credit, Missouri lawmakers are likely to pass the “Student of Association Act” (authored by Joshua Hawley, a University of Missouri law school professor and founder of the Missouri Liberty Project) that would prohibit universities in the state from withholding funds or taking any action against student religious groups based on the group’s “religious requirements or leadership standards.” The bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, passed the House March 19 on a 117-38 vote. It has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and is expected to pass the Senate before this year’s session concludes. It is believed that if Gov. Jay Nixon vetoes the measure, there are enough votes in both chambers to override his veto, thus passing the law.