Group Aims to Get Sexual Orientation Bias Ban on Missouri Ballot

Article excerpt

JEFFERSON CITY A new group in Missouri could soon start circulating petitions for a ballot measure that would make it illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in Missouri.

Aaron Malin, executive director of Missourians for Equality, said the group hopes to get the issue to voters in 2014.

"It's wrong for people to be fired or evicted from their homes based on sexual orientation," he said. "There's the potential for Missouri to become one of those places where people realize this is no longer an issue of what is politically popular, it's a matter of what's right." The idea isn't new. Democrats in the Missouri Legislature have proposed similar legislation for more than a decade, but the bills have never made it to a floor vote.

Malin said the election last week, which resulted in veto-proof Republican majorities in the state House and Senate, has persuaded the group to seek a popular vote.

"Our Legislature is much more conservative than the general populous on this issue," he said.

State law prohibits discrimination in housing and employment based on race, religion, national origin, gender, age and disability.

According to legal experts at the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, it is also illegal to discriminate against transgender people in Missouri but the law doesn't prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and there is no federal law to cover the gap.

During a 2010 House committee hearing on one of the proposed bills, a representative from the state attorney general's office testified that the civil rights division had to ignore complaints about discrimination against gays and lesbians because it's not barred by state law.

Some efforts to lessen the potential for discrimination have been successful here in recent years, however.

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, quietly signed an executive order two years ago that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation for jobs in the state executive branch.

Several cities also have passed local ordinances to outlaw discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Clayton, Creve Coeur, Ferguson, Maplewood, Olivette, Richmond Heights and University City, as well as the city of St. Louis, have included sexual orientation in antidiscrimination legislation in recent years, as have Columbia and Kansas City. …