ST. LOUIS (AP) - A Missouri group may soon start circulating petitions for a ballot measure aimed at making it illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in the state.
Aaron Malin, director of Missourians for Equality, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/UAjpr5 ) that the goal is to get the issue before voters in 2014. The effort must still pass several administrative hurdles with the Missouri Secretary of State's office before supporters can begin collecting signatures.
Democratic state lawmakers have proposed similar legislation for more than a decade. Those bills have never made it to a floor vote. Malin says the Legislature is far more conservative than Missourians in general and that the group contends the best chance for passage is through a vote of the people.
Discrimination in housing and employment is illegal in Missouri based on race, religion, national origin, gender, age and disability. Legal experts say that while it also is illegal to discriminate against transgender people in Missouri, the law doesn't prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
At a House hearing on one of the bills last year, a member of the state attorney general's staff testified that the civil rights division had to ignore complaints about discrimination against gays and lesbians because it is not barred by state law.
"It's wrong for people to be fired or evicted from their homes based on sexual orientation," Malin said. "There's the potential for Missouri to become one of those places where people realize this is no longer an issue of what is politically popular, it's a matter of what's right."
Some efforts to fight discrimination at the state level have been successful. Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, quietly signed an executive order two years ago that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation for jobs in the state executive branch.
Several Missouri cities have passed ordinances to outlaw discrimination against gays and lesbians, including St. Louis and several suburban towns, along with Kansas City and Columbia. Springfield recently considered similar language.
Last week, voters in four states passed measures in favor of gay marriage. Malin believes that was evidence that popular opinion has shifted on gay-friendly legislation.
Missourians for Equality must get about 150,000 signatures to get the discrimination measure on the ballot.
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com