Senators hear testimony on 'gay' discrimination

Missouri’s economy would be helped if lawmakers made it illegal to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, state Sen. Jolie Justus told a committee Wednesday afternoon.

“It has been shown over the years that this is incredibly good for business,” Justus, D-Kansas City, told the Senate’s Progress and Development Committee. “Businesses in the state of Missouri — including lots of Fortune 50, 100 and 500 companies — already include sexual orientation and gender identity in their non-discrimination policies.”

Because Missouri follows an “at-will” employment doctrine, employers in the state can terminate employees for almost any reason — or even for no reason — unless the employee is in a category protected by the state’s existing non-discrimination laws.

The state’s Human Rights law already prohibits discrimination “on the basis of race, religion, sex, national origin, age and disability,” Justus said.

Even after adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the law, she added, her bill does not “include small businesses under six employees, corporations and associations that are owned or operated by religious groups — and it does not allow for quotas, or preferential treatment, based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Justus said her bill would prohibit “public and private employers, employment agencies and labor unions from using an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for employment decisions such as

hiring, firing, promotion or compensation,” she explained. “It also prevents individuals from being denied public housing or accommodation because of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

She added: “Right now, as many of you know because I’ve been talking about it for eight years, it’s perfectly legal to be fired from your job because you’re gay.

“Or because someone assumes that you’re gay.”

Several people testified both in favor and against the bill.

Duane Simpson, working for the St. Louis-based Monsanto company, told the committee: “From a company perspective, we’ve learned over the years that it’s best for us, as a business, to be able to attract and retain the best talent available if the laws and our policies allow people to be who they are.

“We firmly believe that people ought to be hired, or fired, or promoted or demoted based upon their merit — not based upon anything else.”

A.J. Bockelman, executive director of the St. Louis-based group, PROMO, which lobbies for sexual orientation and gender identity issues, told committee members they’ve been active on the issues since at least 1999.

“Year-over-year, we’ve seen support and public opinion grow in favor,” he said.

“Discrimination does exist,” he added, citing a federal study showing 10 of 20 elder-care facilities “denied access based on sexual orientation. That’s a stunning number.”

Several opponents said they don’t support discrimination — but think companies should make their own decisions rather than having a state mandate.

Jay Adkins, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s lobbyist and chief counsel, told the committee: “Whereas we believe those policies are good business, the Missouri Chamber does not support any legislation that will create a new, protected class (that) would expose our members to increased liability in the courts.”

Tyler McClay, general counsel for the Missouri Catholic Conference, said they’re concerned the bill doesn’t include “those individuals in the community who are trying to live and exercise their faith in their businesses.”

But, Justus told the committee: “We would have to say it’s OK for someone to discriminate against someone else because of their race, their religion (or) their disability — and that’s a very difficult thing to do.”

Kerry Messer of the Missouri Family Network and the Missouri Baptist Convention, argued the current list of protected people is “based on immutable characteristics, and we’re adding in here a characteristic that is not immutable. It’s based on behavior — particularly sexual preference — and it would require someone to broadcast in some way what their sexual preference is.

And Bev Ehlen of Concerned Women for America told the senators the bill doesn’t address a main problem of society, that children grow up better when the mother and father live together in the home.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Please review our Policies and Procedures before registering or commenting

News Tribune - comments