The Missouri legislature just dealt a huge blow to the so-called “religious freedom” laws that have been spreading through the U.S. like wildfire.
After Democrats in the State Senate strung together a passionate 41-hour filibuster that ultimately failed to keep Senate Joint Resolution 39 from passing the chamber, it then went to the State House. There, Missouri state-sponsored discrimination died in committee on an historic 6-6 vote. The bill would have allowed blatant discrimination by businesses against the LGBT community.
With Republicans on the committee holding a strong majority, it should have been a cakewalk. But somewhere along the line, a few remaining sane Republicans grew a backbone. With known votes show it passing out of committee 6-5, the deciding vote came down to Republican Jim Hansen. He may just be a state representative with little to no national name recognition, but his words will linger in state houses considering similar legislation in the near future.
With tears in his eyes and a shaky voice, he said this:
“You’ve got to look in your heart on how you view this bill. They call it religious freedom… I feel that I’m free in this country to worship the way I want, and I don’t need a law to tell me how to worship. I don’t need a law passed to make it legal to be a Christian.”
Is it possible that a faction of the Republican party has had enough? Is it possible that the Tea Party pushed its luck, and now some pro-business Republicans actually interested in governing instead of bickering are ready to fight back? Sorry, not holding my breath. But the path to get to this place where we’re actually talking about the sinfulness of making a flower arrangement for a same-sex marriage has a fascinating history.
In 1993, the U.S. government passed a law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Surprisingly, this bill was introduced by Democrats in both chambers of Congress, though originally the federal law was meant to protect Native Americans and their use of certain lands that carry religious significance to their tribe, as well as for the use of peyote in spiritual ceremonies.
Four years later, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) weakened the bill by removing the federal reach over state and local laws. The law’s significance faded over time (not uncommon for laws originally meant to better serve Native Americans), and 20 years after the law originally passed, few pips had been peeped over what it all meant.
This brings us to June of 2013, when SCOTUS made a ruling on California’s infamous Proposition 8, thus preventing the state from blocking same-sex marriages. This was not the sweeping ruling that would finally make same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states (it could have been, but that would have to wait two more years). It was, however, enough writing on the wall for the conservative religious movement to spring into action and seek out some way to gay bash without making it obvious that they’re gay bashing.
Not surprisingly, 2013 became the first year that religious conservatives in state legislatures decided to test the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by trying to enact it clearly into state law. Now, the concern was not about Native Americans, but rather it was about where to draw the nonsensical line protecting private business from the evils of putting two dudes on the top of a wedding cake.
Make no mistake: this was a crossroads of which the GOP was completely unprepared. A few, like Representative Hansen, would employ their religious beliefs as reason to push back against this kind of discrimination, perhaps truthfully, but also perhaps as a cover of sorts for the libertarian-esque portion of the Republican brain that had another concern. How can a free market capitalist society survive when businesses are turning away paying customers?
Short answer is that it can’t. Even the Missouri Chamber of Commerce isn’t interested in discrimination by employees and turned on the weakening Republican overlords. Watch the roll call vote that ended the Missouri bill below.
Featured image via The Missouri Times