- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - About 200 people rallied Tuesday in the Missouri Capitol in support of a proposed constitutional amendment to protect some businesses that cite religious beliefs in declining to provide services for same-sex weddings, a measure that’s dividing GOP candidates for governor.

Republican sponsor Sen. Bob Onder urged the crowd to tell his colleagues in the House to “let the people decide.” If passed by the Legislature, voters this year would decide whether to amend the Missouri Constitution to add protections for some businesses that cite religion while declining goods or services of “expressional or artistic creation” for same-sex weddings.

The measure passed the Senate despite a failed 37-hour filibuster by Democrats and has led to division among GOP contenders for Missouri governor, with first-time candidate Eric Greitens on Tuesday saying he’s against the proposal. The three other Republican candidates have shown support for the measure, and two attended the Tuesday rally.

Supporters say the measure is needed to shield florists, photographers and other businesses from potential lawsuits following the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that legalized marriages of same-sex couples in all states.

But it’s drawn opposition from those who say it amounts to discrimination, and some say Missouri faces the same economic consequences that other states have faced recently when they adopted religious protections for those who oppose same-sex marriage.

Several states and cities have banned travel to Mississippi in response to a law signed by the Republican governor this month to let workers cite religious beliefs to deny services to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the Missouri measure, has pointed to Indiana as another example of the business backlash. A public-private tourism group has estimated that Indiana lost $60 million in hotel profits, tax revenues and other economic benefits after Indiana Republican Gov. Mike Pence last year signed religious-objections legislation.

Some opponents of the measure have cited opposition from businesses, who fear Missouri would be considered less welcoming to gay and lesbian employees and passage could hurt the state’s economy.

As Rep. Paul Curtman, who is responsible for ushering the bill in the House and supports it, mentioned those concerns, one man yelled “baloney!”

“The economic fear tactics are not going to work on us,” said Curtman, adding that those worries are “unsubstantiated.” He echoed sentiments expressed on one supporter’s sign, which read “The First Amendment is not for sale.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder also spoke at the rally, and fellow GOP candidate and suburban St. Louis businessman John Brunner attended. Former House speaker and U.S. attorney Catherine Hanaway praised Senate Republicans after they broke the Democratic filibuster to pass the measure in March.

Former Navy SEAL officer Greitens is the only Republican candidate vying to replace term-limited Gov. Jay Nixon to say he opposes the proposal.

In a Tuesday statement, he said it could “unintentionally threaten our economy and job creation.”

“This debate doesn’t have be a choice between protecting religious liberties or protecting Missouri jobs,” Greitens said, adding that he’d protect clergy and religious leaders that opt not to perform marriage ceremonies against their beliefs.

The rally comes the day after the group Missouri Competes, which was formed to fight the measure, announced brewer Anheuser-Busch is the latest major Missouri company to join its ranks.

The measure is awaiting a vote in a House committee.

If passed without any changes, it would bypass Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and head to voters for either the Aug. 2 or Nov. 8 ballot.

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Missouri religious protection measure is SJR 39

Online:

Senate: https://www.senate.mo.gov

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Follow Summer Ballentine at https://twitter.com/esballentine

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