|By Jason Hancock, The Kansas City Star|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
He was trying to break the ice.
Justus, an openly gay Democrat from
That tactic worked. Eight years later, the two had grown to be close friends inside and outside the Capitol.
They also became allies on at least one effort near and dear to their hearts: banning discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Missourians.
"As a Christian, I still oppose same-sex marriage," Engler said. "But we shouldn't be persecuting people. That's not Christian."
Never before has the effort to change that stood better odds in
It's one thing to wave off concerns about gay rights in the abstract. It's another to dismiss the views of a colleague who challenged you honestly on a tax bill, compromised to pass the budget or teamed with you on some pet project -- and also happens to be lesbian.
"She allows her fellow senators to understand how the issue of discrimination affects people firsthand," Engler said, "from someone they know and like."
At the same time, Justus acknowledges the effect of having an openly gay member of the
"When you're in the room," the lawmaker said, "people are less likely to be talking about you and more likely to be talking to you."
The perception of the cultural clash on gay rights is that of two sides shouting past each other with no hope for common ground.
It's Justus talking with Sen.
"These aren't easy issues. There are passions on both sides," said Emery, a Republican from southwest
Public attitudes may be evolving, Emery said, but many employers, landlords and others still anchor their sense of right and wrong in religious teachings. Those people find the prospect of hiring openly gay workers or housing same-sex couples a moral affront.
"They believe they are better off in business if they acknowledge the standards that are expressed in their biblical world view," Emery said.
History shows that great civilizations fall, he said, when they begin to accept "what we used to call sexual perversion."
"It's hard when you see that again and again in history to say there are no consequences," he said. "You say, 'What's the big deal?' Well, the big deal is every civilization that has ever met its end, whether it was the cause or not, there's evidence that it was a part of their latter days."
Justus is unlikely to win Emery over to her thinking, but the civility of their relationship is part of a legislative alchemy that suggests a gay rights bill stands a chance even in a