A measure that attempted to take the power away from Missouri lawmakers and give it to the people to decide how to handle the marriage and religious liberty debate died in committee Wednesday after three Republicans voted against it.
“It is unfortunate that Republican representatives who typically campaign as conservatives refused to govern that way,” Ryan Johnson, president of the conservative Missouri Alliance for Freedom, said in a statement. “Their votes to defeat religious liberty in spite of its overwhelming support by Missourians are a slap in the face to Missouri voters.”
Missouri Alliance for Freedom had been lobbying in favor of the measure, Senate Joint Resolution 39, to pass through the state House of Representatives. In March, the Missouri Senate passed it after a historic 36-hour filibuster.
State Reps. Anne Zerr of St. Charles, Caleb Rowden of Columbia, and Jim Hansen of Frankford, all Republicans, joined Democrats in voting no to make the committee vote a tie.
The measure is unlike many other religious liberty bills currently being debated by state lawmakers. If the bill had passed the House, it would not have gone to the governor’s desk for approval. Instead, it would have become a ballot initiative, giving every Missouri citizen a chance to weigh in on the issue.
The idea behind the measure, Johnson, president of Missouri Alliance for Freedom, told The Daily Signal in an earlier interview, was to give people the opportunity to vote on the “religious freedom vs. gay marriage contest” for the first time since the Supreme Court ruled on the issue last June.
Supporters say if SJR 39 were to take effect, it would ban government discrimination against people of faith because of their beliefs about marriage. Schools and charities, for example, would be protected from losing access to government programs because of their beliefs about marriage.
Opponents argue that the measure would encourage discrimination against gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals by allowing some private business owners, such as photographers and florists, to deny service for a wedding because of their religious beliefs.
Big businesses played a significant role in the measure’s ultimate destiny, rallying against it as part of a coalition called Missouri Competes. In total, more than 150 businesses opposed what they called a “discrimination” measure, including big-name companies such as Pfizer, MasterCard, and Marriott.