The disputed Missouri legislation that would provide protections for clergy members and business owners from being penalized for their refusal to take part in same-sex weddings has a new supporter. Sen. Wayne Wallingford spoke with KRCU's Marissanne Lewis-Thompson to explain why he pledged his support.
Lewis-Thompson: Welcome Sen. Wallingford.
Wallingford: Thank you.
Lewis-Thompson: So, last month a piece of controversial legislation known as Senate Joint Resolution 39 was approved by many republicans in the Missouri Senate. And it will essentially provide protection in the form of a "religious shield" for members of the clergy and business owners from being penalized for refusing to offer services for same-sex weddings. So, why are you supporting this?
Wallingford: Well, I'm supporting it because it's supported by the constitution and the first amendment, which actually says that congress will make no law respective in the establishment of religion or and that's key or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. And so, that's what we're talking about. This law would make sure that we're not prohibiting the free exercise of your religious belief. So, that's why it's very important to me, because it's stated in our constitution that citizens of the United States have that right to express their religious beliefs.
Lewis-Thompson: Well, many are calling this piece of legislation somewhat discriminatory. So do you think it is? Why or why not?
Wallingford: Well, I don't think it is. But if it's discriminatory I would say it's discriminatory against the business owners what this bill [will] address. It's discriminatory towards those business owners who want to practice their sincere religious beliefs. And that is protected by the constitution that they can't be discriminated against.
Lewis-Thompson: Would you say you’re trying to uphold religious liberty? And if so, is there an alternative to this that would in some ways meet people halfway?
Wallingford: Well you want to remember that this bill is very narrow and targeted just against protecting churches and clergy and you know some business owners pretty much would have to do like wedding vendors. In other words, anyone that's a wedding planner or provides a vocalist or instrumental, flowers, [or] baker. It's very narrow. It doesn't give anyone the right to discriminate beyond that.
Lewis-Thompson: Well, I know a couple of years ago you filed something very similar to this that would in essence give Missouri business owners the ability to cite religious beliefs in order to legally justify why refusing service is okay. How would that have benefited people in this community?
Wallingford: Well, that was a more broad you know that was under what they call the RFRA and was a lot more broad. If you’re familiar with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that the U.S. government enacted, and that was way way broader than this. This amendment is entirely defensive. It prevents state and local governments from posing penalties. This is very targeted and that it protects religious organizations like I said some wedding vendors where the RFRA or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act kind of protected any and all religious beliefs and then shifted to the government a heavy burden of showing both a compelling state interest and that such interest is being pursued by the least restrictive mean.
Lewis-Thompson: Could this piece of legislation open the door to more or other pieces of legislation that could be perceived as discriminatory? For example, an interracial couple being denied service based on someone's religious belief that maybe interracial couples don't belong together?
Wallingford: No, because the federal courts have already weighed in on that many many times in past court cases that interracial marriages are legal, and there's no basis to prohibit interracial marriages. So I don't-- that's why this is so targeted and so narrow. It doesn't open the door to anything else. And the one you're just describing of course it would be against the law anyway. Basically, the U.S. Constitution protects fundamental civil liberties: freedom of speech, religion, right to vote, own property, right of association entered into contracts. So, the recognition of these civil liberties leaves everyone equal before the law. And that’s why when it comes to race all races are equal before the law. But I think any new laws that bestow special privileges on some persons based on sexual orientation I think they would be undermining those same fundamental liberties especially the free exercise of religion. So, these laws--new laws or laws that would address that they tend to be vague and overly broad and they really expose innocent citizens to ruinous liability and really foster harmful government intervention.
Lewis-Thompson: This could potentially be seen by voters on the ballot later this year. If it gets approved by the [Missouri] House?
Wallingford: Yes, yes it could appear on the ballot either in August or November. I have a feeling that it might go on the November ballot, but I could be wrong. But either August or November. We had a ballot sometime ago on what is the definition of marriage and 71 percent of the voters said 'well marriage is between a man and a woman.' So we have strong support in Missouri for a traditional marriage.
Lewis-Thompson: If approved what kind of impact do you think this will have on the local economy?
Wallingford: I don't think it will have any impact on the local economy. I was very disappointed to see the state Chamber of Commerce come out and not back this. In fact, my understanding the Chamber of Commerce basically protects small businesses and now based on their disagreement with this, because they think it's gonna impact you know potential conferences or sporting events coming to Missouri. I thought they showed no courage by not supporting the very members that are a member of their organization and the very constitution that this nation was founded upon.
Lewis-Thompson: Well, thank you so much for talking to me and explaining this issue.
Wallingford: Yes you're entirely welcome.