The Missouri Senate has rejected legislation which would have made Christian ministries and Christian business owners who believe in traditional marriage the target of anti-discrimination lawsuits. By a vote of 20-10, the Senate voted down an amendment to Missouri’s human rights statutes which would have exposed supporters of Biblical marriage to hostile complaints of discrimination. Under current state statute, it is illegal to discriminate in employment, housing, or public accommodations based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, or age. The amendment, offered by Senator Jill Schupp of Creve Couer, would have added so-called “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected classes under the state’s anti-discrimination statutes.
Under Missouri law, a “public accommodation” is not, as the words might suggest, a public facility or building owned by the government. Rather, it applies to any private business enterprise that offers for sale “goods, services, privileges, facilities, advantages, or accommodations” for the benefit of the general public.
Numerous states and municipalities across the nation have enacted similar amendments to “public accommodations” laws under pressure from the “gay rights” movement. Passage of these laws has resulted in government prosecution or private lawsuits against Christian business proprietors who declined to participate in same-sex union ceremonies. The most prominent victims of these legal attacks have been wedding vendors such as bakers, florists, and photographers.
In the most egregious case, a couple from Gresham, Oregon, were charged with “sexual orientation” discrimination when they declined to bake a “wedding cake” for a same-sex union ceremony. Aaron and Melissa Klein were fined $135,000 by the Oregon Bureau of Labor Standards because they stood by their Christian convictions and chose not to support a celebration of behavior God calls an “abomination.”
It was later revealed that the Chairman of the Oregon Labor Standards Board is a homosexual rights activist who collaborated with “gay rights” leaders in the case against the Kleins. Aaron and Melissa were forced to shut down their shop, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, following organized boycotts of their business and their suppliers, and ongoing malicious harassment. They are appealing the harshly punitive fine to the Oregon Court of Appeals.
In yet another case, a 72-year-old florist from Richland, Washington, was charged by the state Attorney General with “sexual orientation” discrimination for declining to provide floral arrangements for a same-sex union ceremony. The Washington Supreme Court found Baronelle Stutzman guilty of the charge, declaring that her actions constituted an “independent social evil.” Stutzman is also the defendant in a private lawsuit filed by the same-sex “couple”, through which she may be assessed damages that could result in the loss of both her business and her home.
A New Mexico photographer was found guilty of “sexual orientation” discrimination because she declined to photograph a same-sex union ceremony and produce a “wedding” album for the lesbian “couple.” Elaine Huguenin was required to pay over $6000 in attorney’s fees to the women, and ordered to accept such requests at her business, Elane’s Photography, in the future.
Huguenin appealed her case to the Washington Supreme Court, arguing that her First Amendment right to the freedom of religion protected her from being forced to violate her religious convictions. The Washington High Court ruled that Huguenin forfeited her First Amendment free exercise rights when she chose to enter the marketplace of public commerce. Elaine is now appealing that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The use of SOGI (sexual orientation/gender identity) laws to attack the Christian community has not been limited to Christians in the business arena. A New York couple, Cynthia and Robert Gifford, were fined $13,000 by the state Division of Human Rights because they refused to allow the home on their farm property to be used for a same-sex ceremony. A New York state court ruled that their residence, a renovated barn, was a public accommodation, because the first floor of the barn was made available for community events.
Even the religious community has not been immune from the malicious mischief of SOGI statutes. A Methodist Church in New Jersey was found guilty of “sexual orientation” discrimination because they declined to allow use of their oceanfront property for a same-sex union ceremony. Ocean Grove Methodist Church was stripped of their state tax exemption because they chose to defend their religious doctrines on their own premises.
A pastor and his wife were threatened with legal action by the City of Couer d’Alene, Idaho, for declining to marry same-sex couples at their wedding chapel, the Hitching Post. City officials maintained that the chapel was operating as a business, and thus was subject to the city’s “public accommodations” law. City attorneys chose not to take formal action against the minister and his wife after a public outcry in the community.
Senator Schupp’s effort would have also amended the state’s employment discrimination law to prohibit bias in hiring and employment based on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” While Missouri’s human rights statutes provide an exemption for organizations owned and operated by religious or sectarian groups, there are many Christian ministries and independent schools that are not owned or operated by churches or religious denominations.
We commend those state senators who acted to preserve the conscience rights of Missourians who believe in traditional marriage, and voted against this anti-Christian amendment. They were Senators Brown, Cunningham, Dixon, Eigel, Emery, Hegeman, Hoskins, Kehoe, Koenig, Kraus, Libla, Munzlinger, Onder, Richard, Riddle, Romine, Sater, Wallingford, Wasson, and Wieland.
We are highly displeased and discouraged by the actions of those state senators who ignored constitutional principles of religious liberty, and voted for this anti-Christian amendment. They were Senators Curls, Holsman, Hummel, Nasheed, Rizzo, Rowden, Schupp, Sifton, Silvey, and Walsh.