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SJR 39, 'religious shield' proposal, defeated in Missouri House committee

Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, speaks against SJR 39 during Wednesday's House Emerging Issues committee meeting.
Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

A proposed constitutional amendment to shield clergy and business owners in Missouri from punishment for refusing to participate in same-sex weddings has failed.

The House Emerging Issues committee voted 6-6 Wednesday on Senate Joint Resolution 39, the tie vote effectively killing the measure.

Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, sits on the committee and is the only openly gay member of the Missouri House.

"Some issues transcend politics, and my hope has always been that if you give people enough accurate information (and) have faith in them, then the right thing will happen," Colona told reporters after the vote. "I think if this were to go to a vote of the people, you would see the same result — this would go down in flames."

Voters would still have had to approve SJR 39, had it passed.

Three of the six "no" votes came from Republican committee members, including Jim Hansen of Frankford, who represents a rural district in northeastern Missouri. 

"You can be a Christian with a big heart, or a little heart," Hansen said. "This law is, to me, asking me to play God — and I'm not God ... I am not God."

Hansen, who choked up while talking about SJR 39, said "I have family ... that is in this situation, but I love him as a Christian, not as his judge." He did not identify which family member he was talking about.

Committee vice chair Gary Cross, R-Lee's Summit, was among the six who voted "yes."

Credit Marshall Griffin|St. Louis Public Radio
Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Frankford, speaks against SJR 39 before Wednesday's vote.

"Look good, feel good legislation? Well, I'm out! I want to be the representative that (people say), 'He stood for something and he lives for what he stands for,'" Cross said. "People in business don't always have the products and services to accommodate … I'm sorry, (but) there are other places that'll take your money."

Rep. Jack Bondon, R-Belton, also voted "yes," but was more conciliatory in his comments.

"I urge all Missourians to set a new example ... by holding the debate in a way that does not demean or demagogue, that does not degrade or demonize," Bondon said before the vote. "The truth is that there are good people on both sides of this issue who are trying to do what they think is best for the people of Missouri ... whether you support SJR 39 or oppose SJR 39, what's most important is that you love your neighbor."

Rep. Sharon Pace, D-North County, followed that by saying SJR 39 was "not a love bill."

"Some of us have been there," Pace said. "I've heard people on the committee saying, 'Well, if they won't serve you (at) one place, go to another.' Where were we when we had the water fountains, the restrooms, that African-Americans had to go to? We didn't have another place to go ... we need to wake up; the devil is busy."

The full roll-call vote:

Yes:  Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield; Cross; Bondon; Ron Hicks, R-St. Peters; Bill Lant, R-Pineville; and Dave Muntzel, R-Boonville.

No:  Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City; Colona; Hansen; Pace; Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia; and Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles.

Response to SJR 39's defeat

Reaction has been pouring in to Wednesday's vote defeating SJR 39. From Gov. Jay Nixon:

"This is an important moment. Today's action – to reject discrimination – will stand as an enduring example of goodness and of growing beyond past prejudices, while protecting people's right to practice their faith. I thank everyone who was involved in this effort to protect the rights of all Missourians and stop this discriminatory measure."

From attorney general and Democratic candidate for governor Chris Koster:

"I applaud the bipartisan group of representatives who voted down SJR39 this afternoon. The bill would have done millions of dollars in economic harm to Missouri and enshrined discrimination in our constitution. Missouri's legislature should now return their focus to passing legislation to boost our economy and create jobs across the state."

From Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant:

"We are pleased to see the Missouri legislature listened to concerns from businesses and people across the state to defeat SJR 39. This is an important victory for all Missourians – each who deserves to be valued and treated with dignity and respect no matter who they are. We are grateful for all of those who worked so hard, especially those who had to take a courageous vote today, to protect the rights of Missouri citizens."

There has also been reaction from SJR 39's supporters, including the sponsor, Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis.

"I am deeply disappointed that Missourians will not have the opportunity to vote on protecting religious freedom. 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."

At least one conservative political group, the Missouri Alliance for Freedom is very unhappy with Zerr, Rowden, and Hensen, the Republican lawmakers who voted "no" on SJR 39:

"We recognize that this is an emotionally charged and personal issue for members of the Legislature, but they have a responsibility to rise above the rhetoric. It is unfortunate that republican representatives who typically campaign as conservatives refused to govern that way in today's House Emerging Issues Committee. Their votes to defeat religious liberty in spite of its overwhelming support by Missourians are a slap in the face to Missouri voters. Hopefully voters will remember."

The statement goes on to say, "This is the opening salvo in a long war. We are not finished."

Hansen is seeking re-election to the Missouri House's 40th District seat, and is running unopposed.

Zerr, who is term-limited out of the House, is seeking the GOP nomination to the 23rd District Senate seat vacated last year by Tom Dempsey. She faces fellow Republicans Bill Eigel and Mike Carter.

Rowden is seeking the 19th District Senate seat and is the lone Republican in that race. He's expected to face Stephen Webber of Columbia, the lone Democrat in that race.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.