Missouri gubernatorial candidates spar over ‘religious freedom’ bill at GOP debate

America’s continuing debate over gay rights versus religious freedom took center stage in Missouri’s race for governor Sunday, with three of the four Republican candidates lauding a proposed referendum to protect businesspeople who refuse to cater to same-sex marriage ceremonies.

In a candidate forum at Lindenwood University, the fourth GOP hopeful, author Eric Greitens, defended his position against the measure, warning that Missouri could find itself facing corporate boycotts and lost conventions, as North Carolina and other states have after passing laws perceived as discriminatory against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens. He went on to vow that, as governor, he would prevent anyone from being forced to cater to or otherwise participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony — though he didn’t say how he would do that, absent a state law providing the authority.

The other three candidates — businessman John Brunner, former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder — strongly backed the proposal from the forum stage, saying it was a matter of both religious freedom and democracy.

At issue is Missouri Senate Joint Resolution 39, which seeks a statewide referendum to protect clergy, churches, wedding vendors and others who decline to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies. Proponents say will support the religious rights of same-sex marriage opponents. Critics allege it is a license for discrimination.

Read more: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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