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Dozens protest "religious freedom' effort

Dozens protest "religious freedom' effort

LGBT advocates rally at state Capitol against constitutional amendment

April 1st, 2016 in News

Matthew "Skippy" Mauldin, right, joined several dozen opponents of a proposed "religious freedom" constitutional amendment Thursday in a rally on the Capitol's south lawn. Afterwards, the group made their way through the third floor hallways in into House Speaker Todd Richardson's office to deliver more than 4,000 petitions, urging him against the effort.

Photo by Julie Smith

Cathy Serino, a transgender woman living in Linn, said in the more than five years since her transition from male to female, she's been discriminated against in the workplace and when searching for housing. Restaurant workers have kicked her out of their establishments, and she said she's been dragged out of public female restrooms. On a regular basis, Serino hears nasty comments about her gender identity.

She claims she once was denied medical care for a broken rib.

Already facing discrimination, Serino said a proposed state constitutional amendment in Missouri will make her life - and the lives of other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals - harder.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, prevents clergy, businesses and service providers - like florists, bakers and photographers - who refuse to participate in a same-sex marriages from being subject to lawsuits and prohibits the government from punishing them.

Similar bills around the county are characterized as a "religious freedom" and "religious objection" legislation.

Last month, Democratic senators led a nearly 40-hour filibuster to prevent the bill from moving forward, but it eventually passed 23-7. It was heard in a House committee Wednesday. If the bill passes through the House, Missouri voters will decide its fate on the November ballot.

"Every time one of these hate bills comes up, it creates a huge target on everyone in the LGBT community," Serino said. "They say that we are second-class citizens, and this opens us up to more discrimination, harassment and violence."

About 75 people rallied with Serino and equality organizations - such as the PROMO, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the Human Rights Campaign - on the Capitol south lawn Thursday, which was also the the Transgender Day of Visibility. After the hour-long rally, advocates presented petitions to House Speaker Todd Richardson's office. Serino said educating others and putting faces on the issue are important ways of combating the legislation.

"People hate what they don't know," she said. "If people learn about us, they realize we're not the monsters, the three-headed dragons that people make us out to be."

Sarah Rossi, director of policy at ACLU Missouri, said the bill goes beyond denying same-sex couples' wedding services, as it could also jeopardize their chances to foster and adopt children among other life opportunities.

One of the misconceptions surrounding the bill, said Steph Perkins, deputy director of PROMO, is that it is meant to protect clergy. They already have protections, he said, and the right to deny their services to homosexual and heterosexual couples alike.

Faith leaders spoke up in opposition of the bill, like the Rev. Wes Mullins with the St. Louis-based Metropolitan Community Church. He said the title of "religious freedom" is an "innocuous name for a devilish bill." The bill doesn't protect religious liberty, Mullins added, but "enshrines religious extremism that looks more like hell than heaven."

"Over the course of history, Christianity and other faiths have been used and abused to support a wide variety of bigotry, and this bill is exactly that - it's bigotry waving a false flag of religious freedom," he said. "From the subjugation of women to the enslavement of African-Americans down to the current intolerance for sexual and gender minorities, we have been down this ill-faded road before."

Perkins said it's also bad for businesses. Some of Missouri's major business groups have come out in opposition, such as the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, Mid-America Gay and Lesbian Chamber and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, which typically swings conservative.

North Carolina's Legislature overturned its governor's veto of similar legislation, and Georgia's Republican governor, Nathan Deal, went against his party recently to file his veto.

Indiana's "Religious Freedom Restoration Act," Perkins said, cost that state $60 million.

"It's hard to watch other states have these similar bills," he said. "We've seen some of them pass and some be vetoed, but we also see the economic impact. ... We know this is an issue, and it sends a terrible message that this is more important than the economic well-being of the state."