The Missouri Legislature is considering an amendment to the state’s constitution that would prohibit the state from imposing penalties on individuals who, due to sincere religious beliefs, refuse to participate in or provide goods and services for marriages or wedding ceremonies of same-sex couples. The “religious freedom” bill has been approved by the Missouri Senate and is currently pending before the House of Representatives. If the bill is passed, the proposed constitutional amendment will appear on the state’s ballot in November.
In a statement released on March 17, 2016, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry publicly opposed the legislation, citing “the detrimental impact this would have on our state’s economy.” Collegiate athletic associations have also expressed concern regarding the legislation’s impact on future sporting events within the state. The president and CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission & Foundation warned that Kansas City would lose millions of dollars annually in economic activity related to sports events if voters approve the constitutional amendment, according to the Lawrence Journal-World.
Missouri is just one of several states where legislation perceived as discriminating against the LGBTQ community has seen opposition from companies doing business within the state. In March 2015, Indiana passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), which prohibits governmental entities within the state from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless the governmental entity demonstrates that the burden is “in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and “is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” The Indiana law quickly drew opposition from businesses, advocacy groups and sports organizations, which claimed that the law allowed businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian customers. One week after the bill was signed into law, the Indiana legislature amended the RFRA to clarify that the law does not authorize discrimination or provide a defense to a legal action based on discrimination. During this same time, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson declined to sign a broadly-worded RFRA, which some Arkansas employers criticized as discriminatory and harmful to the state’s image, but instead signed a revised law that more closely tracked the federal version.
More recently, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe have vetoed religious freedom bills. The Georgia bill would have allowed faith-based organizations to deny services to individuals who violate the organization’s “sincerely held religious belief” and to refuse to hire or retain as an employee “any person whose religious beliefs or practices…are not in accord with the faith based organization’s sincerely held religious belief.” Critics of Georgia’s proposed legislation claimed that the bill licensed discrimination, and businesses reportedly threatened to pull investments from Georgia if the bill passed. The Virginia bill would have prohibited the state from penalizing any religious organization or its employees for acting in accordance with a sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction “that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.” In a statement accompanying his veto, Governor McAuliffe explained, “This legislation is … bad for business and creates roadblocks as we try to build the new Virginia economy. Businesses and job creators do not want to locate or do business in states that appear more concerned with demonizing people than with creating a strong business climate.”
Business concerns have not prevailed in every instance, however. On March 23, 2016, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed a new law that bans cities from enacting local anti-discrimination ordinances, after the Charlotte city council passed an ordinance that, among other things, allowed transgender people to use public restrooms that match their self-identified gender. Many companies have issued statements opposing the law, and dozens of business leaders have signed a letter to Governor McCrory urging the governor “and the leadership of North Carolina’s legislature to repeal this law in the upcoming legislative session.” The National Basketball Association has indicated that the law may affect whether the state will host the 2017 All-Star Game.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 21 states have enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Acts since 1993, when the federal law was enacted, and ten states are currently considering legislation on the topic.