- Associated Press - Saturday, December 26, 2015

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - A Republican running for state attorney general says he wants lawmakers to exempt religious groups and businesses from participating in marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.

Josh Hawley told the Columbia Daily Tribune (https://bit.ly/1NAMBqz ) that he recently urged legislative leaders to take action on the issue in the 2016 session, which begins Jan. 6. He called for exemptions for ministers, churches and businesses, but said the goal isn’t to create protections for general business owners who don’t want to serve those couples.

“There needs to be a line at participation in a ceremony or a closely related event,” said Hawley, an associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Law.

Hawley’s push is part of a larger response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that legalized gay marriage. Some now want laws touted as protecting the religious rights of those who might oppose such unions. Advocacy groups, and some Missouri Democrats, want more safeguards against discrimination based on sexuality or gender identity.

Steph Perkins, the interim executive director of St. Louis-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group PROMO, said current law already allows businesses to refuse to serve gay or transgender customers.

Missouri Catholic Conference Executive Director Mike Hoey also said ministers and religious groups can refuse to participate in something that violates their faith under the First Amendment. Hoey said the Catholic Church doesn’t support allowing businesses to discriminate.

Hawley, who said his proposals would help “avoid a culture war,” was part of a team of more than a dozen lawyers in a U.S. Supreme Court case in which Hobby Lobby and other businesses challenged a federal requirement to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives for employees. The high court ultimately ruled that corporations can hold religious objections that allow them to opt of the birth control requirement of the Affordable Care Act.

Hawley faces a Republican primary against state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, also of Columbia. Schaefer criticized Hawley as not having a “good handle of what law is” regarding his recent proposal.

Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster is running for governor in 2016. St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman and former Cass County prosecutor Teresa Hensley are running for the office as Democrats.

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Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, https://www.columbiatribune.com


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