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GOP attorney general candidate seeks to protect opponents of same-sex marriage

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Law professor Josh Hawley, now a Republican candidate for Missouri attorney general, is calling on the state’s legislative leaders to take action to protect opponents of same-sex marriage.

Hawley has sent a letter to House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, and Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, in which he asks them “to make sure religious liberty is at the top of the agenda’’ when the General Assembly reconvenes next month.

Hawley is proposing that lawmakers consider crafting legislation that would protect churches, ministers and religious organizations or institutions from being “fined or sued or punished by the government in any way for following centuries-old religious teaching on marriage.”

Hawley is seeking similar protections for any “business person of faith,’’ who he says may otherwise be “forced to participate in or service a wedding ceremony that violates his or her sincere religious convictions.”

Hawley asserted in the letter that such actions were necessary because President Barack Obama’s administration, in his opinion, “has been the most hostile administration to religious liberty in our nation’s history.’’

Hawley's proposal is in line with an earlier pledge, made this fall, that -- if elected attorney general -- he'd defend public officials who refuse to sanction same-sex marriages.

He is on leave from his post as a law professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Hawley is competing against state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Republican from Columbia, for next year's GOP nomination for attorney general.

Both men have made a point of highlighting their socially conservative views. Schaefer is chairing a legislative committee that has been holding hearings on Planned Parenthood's operations around the state. Schaefer has sought to end abortions at the agency's clinic in Columbia, and has been critical of the clinic's longstanding relationship with the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.