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House deals two strikes to gay rights

March 31, 2004
By: Jonathan Moxey
State Capital Bureau
Links: HS HCS HJR 39, HB 885

JEFFERSON CITY - Gay rights suffered two blows in the Missouri House Wednesday.

The first blow came when a House committee approved a bill that would prohibit state-funded public institutions from using anti-discrimination policies that exceed federal standards. Federal standards do not include sexual orientation.

The second came as the House joined the Senate in voicing its approval for a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriages. The House gave the measure first round approval with a voice vote following hours of debate.

The bill limiting the scope of state institutions' anti-discrimination policies passed out of the House Committee on Workforce Development and Workplace Safety and will move to the House chamber for debate.

The measure would place institutions with sexual orientation clauses, like the University of Missouri, in jeopardy of losing state money.

"The University of Missouri would be forced to choose between protecting their (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) students and faculty from discrimination and losing money from the state," said Jeff Wunrow, Executive Director of the gay rights advocacy group PROMO, in an interview earlier this month.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho, said his intent was to protect the state's resources from liability.

"It's an economic issue," Wilson said. "When you add protected classes, you open yourself up for lawsuits."

Lawmakers seeking to protect the "sanctity of marriage" said a constitutional amendment is necessary to combat the antics of "activist judges," despite current state law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

"We have radical judges that just completely disregard what the law says," said Rep. Mark Wright, R-Springfield.

Opponents called the measure "discriminatory" and said it would be a step backward for civil rights.

"Never has the Constitution been amended to restrict the rights of certain individuals," Rep. Vicki Walker, D-Jackson County, said. "We don't put discrimination into the constitution...we remove it."

Rep. Susan Phillips, R-Kansas City argued the amendment was not about discrimination.

"It's about supporting traditional marriage," Phillips said. "If we forbid a father from marrying his daughter or a man from marrying two wives, we don't call it discrimination, we call it good public policy, and so is this."

Representatives on both sides of the issue agreed that the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution could eventually require Missouri to recognize a gay marriage from another state, regardless of the proposed amendment's outcome.

The Senate passed a similar constitutional amendment earlier this year.