‘Religious freedom’ amendment defeated in House committee vote

A proposed “religious freedom” amendment to Missouri’s constitution was defeated Wednesday in a House committee vote, likely ending chances that the controversial measure will be put to voters.

The House Emerging Issues Committee voted 6-6 on the measure, Senate Joint Resolution 39. A tie vote in committee means defeat. That follows more than a month of House lawmakers grappling with the issue.

In March, the Senate’s Republican supermajority approved the measure by forcing an end to a Democratic filibuster.

SJR 39 sought to amend the state constitution to offer protection to certain individuals and businesses who cite religious beliefs in refusing to serve same-sex couples. If lawmakers had approved the measure, it would have been put on a state ballot and left up to voters.

Backers of the measure said it offered protection from penalties and lawsuits for people who object to same-sex marriage. But opponents countered that the measure was vaguely worded and would have resulted in broader application than supporters admitted.

The issue caused a schism between usually steadfast Republican constituencies, with social conservatives backing the measure but business lobbies across the state rallying against it.

Missouri is not alone in seeing that scenario play out this year. In Georgia, the governor vetoed a similar measure under pressure from business interests. Meanwhile, North Carolina has dealt with blowback from businesses after the state passed a law banning transgender people from using bathrooms and locker rooms that don’t match the gender on their birth certificates.

Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, who sponsored SJR 39, issued a statement Wednesday.

“I am deeply disappointed that Missourians will not have the opportunity to vote on protecting religious freedom,” the statement said. “Seven weeks ago, the Missouri Senate stood strong through the longest filibuster in state history and voted 23-7 to advance SJR 39. Today, House members caved to pressure from special interests and killed the religious freedom amendment. It is wrong that Missouri voters will be denied a voice in the decision making process.”

Read more: Kansas City Star, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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