|By Jason Hancock, The Kansas City Star|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Although it doesn't mention sexual orientation, the bill could provide legal cover for denial of services to same-sex couples.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen.
To supporters of the idea -- similar to legislation filed in several other states -- the goal is to make it clear that private individuals can use religious beliefs as a defense in litigation.
"We're trying to protect Missourians from attacks on their religious freedom," Wallingford said.
Opponents contend bills like Wallingford's would allow businesses to discriminate against anyone they do not like, most notably gays and lesbians.
"It's a legislative attempt to legalize discrimination toward (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) individuals," said
Wallingford said he based the bill loosely on legislation that has been debated in other states, such as
In both cases, the business owners cited religious beliefs in declining to provide services and were eventually sued.
"This is trying to provide a defense in those types of instances," Wallingford said.
He said the bill is also designed to protect businesses such as
In the states where similar bills have been debated, controversy erupted.
But that legislation has stalled in the
Gay-rights supporters planned to rally at the Kansas Statehouse in opposition to the bill Tuesday.
Wallingford was one of nine senate Republicans who joined with Democrats last year to pass a bill adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's Human Rights Act. State law currently prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender and age, among other categories, but not sexual orientation.
That bill died in the closing moments of the 2013 session when the House didn't bring it up for a vote.
Bockelman said Wallingford's bill sets up a situation where one
"The Human Rights Act says there are protected classes, such as race and gender, with a history of facing discrimination," Bockelman said. "But this bill says a person's religious beliefs are more protected."
Wallingford said he still supports outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace. He points out that his bill specifically states it would not apply to discrimination against those included in the Missouri Human Rights Act.
"There should not be discrimination in the workplace," Wallingford said. "But businesses should be free to practice their religious beliefs."
Earlier this month, the House approved legislation sponsored by Speaker
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