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Business outcry doesn't stop Missouri religious-objections

Gay-rights supporter Mathew "Skippy" Mauldin holds a flag during a rally outside the Missouri Capitol on Thursday, March 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

JEFFERSON CITY • Missourians likely will not vote on the controversial Senate Joint Resolution 39 after the House Emerging Issues Committee voted down the measure on a tie vote Wednesday.

Republican Reps. Anne Zerr of St. Charles, Caleb Rowden of Columbia and Jim Hansen of Frankford joined with the committee's three Democrats. With a 6-6 vote, the measure's tumultuous journey through the Missouri Legislature probably is over.

The resolution, if approved by voters, would have granted greater legal protections under the Missouri constitution to clergy and wedding vendors who decline to participate in a same-sex wedding.

Any course forward for the SJR is hard to see with a little more than two weeks remaining in the legislative session. Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, who sponsored the proposal, issued a statement indicating the measure was dead.

“I am deeply disappointed that Missourians will not have the opportunity to vote on protecting religious freedom. Seven weeks ago, the Missouri Senate stood strong through the longest filibuster in state history and voted 23–7 to advance SJR 39. Today, House members caved to pressure from special interests and killed the religious freedom amendment.  It is wrong that Missouri voters will be denied a voice in the decision-making process.”

SJR 39 has been one of the most hotly contested proposals this year in the Missouri Legislature. Supporters say it's necessary to protect those with objections to same-sex marriage on religious grounds from government penalties and lawsuits.

But opponents have argued that the measure is poorly drafted, potentially encouraging widespread discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Missouri.

Companies and business groups have lobbied against the bill, saying that similar measures in states such as Indiana, North Carolina and Mississippi have led to intense national backlash and business losses.

Democratic leaders in the House called the vote historic.

“The ultimate issue here is whether our state constitution protects all Missourians or grants special rights to some to detriment of others. In the years to come, I am confident today’s action will be remembered as being on the right side of history," said House Minority Leader Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis.

This story will be updated.

Jack Suntrup covers state government and politics for the Post-Dispatch.

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