Editorial: Sexual orientation non-discrimination bill essential for Missouri

Protecting the rights of citizens should be Missouri’s first priority, and passing this bill would cement this belief.

On April 15, Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, introduced House Bill 407 to the Missouri House Civil and Criminal Proceeding Committee, which would create laws protecting against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The bill seeks to change the official definition of discrimination to include unfair treatment based on sexual orientation or gender identification. Most notably, it would prevent Missourians from being fired based on their sexual or gender identity.

The introduction marks the sixth consecutive year that the bill, commonly referred to as MONA, or the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, has been introduced to the Missouri House. Even Webber, the bill’s author, admits 2015 might not be the year it passes through the House.

The question this introduced legislation prompts is simple: How do we as a state not already have legislation like this in place? How is it that our definition of discrimination has never included a person’s sexual orientation? The mere fact that an entire section of our population can be so grossly neglected by our state government is discouraging and deplorable.

What’s even worse is that this particular legislation has been brought to the House and rejected five times already, and members of the House are still skeptical about whether it will pass this time. By not passing this bill time and time again, the Missouri House has clearly shown that they have no interest in expanding the definition of discrimination to protect the rights of taxpaying citizens. This failure to represent citizens of the state of Missouri is an abominable misstep.

Twenty states, two of which are our neighbors, already have employment nondiscrimination laws in place that cover sexual orientation. On a national scale, the U.S. Supreme Court is currently discussing a landmark case that could potentially redefine marriage so that same-sex couples are included. While our nation makes progress toward making the U.S. a better place to live for LGBT members of our society, Missouri still refuses to budge.

Missouri is not alone in its refusal to move forward. Multiple states, including Indiana and Arkansas, have introduced religious freedom bills that would actively discriminate against people who identify as LGBT. Thirty states still lack legislation that would include sexual orientation under nondiscrimination laws.

In the past few months, multiple bills have been introduced in Missouri’s House that have actively discriminated against members of the LGBT community. Senate Bill 248 called for state colleges and universities to allow religious campus organizations to reject people from joining their organization based on their religious beliefs. With this law, organizations would have the ability to reject people based on their sexual orientation. HB 1337 would potentially prevent people who could “solemnize” marriages from doing so for same-sex couples. HB 1338 and 1339 had the potential to eliminate state funding from any public institution that would create a gender-neutral environment. These are simply a few examples of bills that have been introduced this year.

As a state, we should be elevating ourselves to a higher level than states like Indiana and Arkansas. We should be promoting safety and security for our citizens, not ostracizing them and allowing them to be barred from fair employment and housing. We need to pass this legislation in order to show our citizens that we care about their rights.

The state motto of Missouri is “Salus populi suprema lex esto,” which translates to “Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.” Missouri legislators, this bill is an opportunity for you to take a stand against discrimination and set a precedent for protecting the welfare of the people of Missouri. We implore you to not let this bill fail for the sixth consecutive time; show the nation that Missouri is ready for change and pass this bill.

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