Businesses Seek 'Conscience' Exemption from County Anti- Discrimination Bill; Measure Would Expand Protections on Sexual Orientation, Gender

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY A bill that would add gender identity and sexual orientation to St. Louis County's anti-discrimination regulations should include a "freedom of conscience" clause for businesses whose owners have a religious, ethical or moral objection to homosexuality, two business owners said Monday.

But the bill's sponsor, County Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, said there are no plans to revise the proposed ordinance that is set for a final vote at tonight's council meeting in Clayton.

The bill would add protections for people in employment, housing and public accommodations in unincorporated areas, regardless of their sexual orientation.

It would also expand protections on the basis of gender and disability.

If the bill becomes law, it would prohibit Allen Bovey, an evangelical Christian, from continuing to turn away customers seeking to rent his Larimore House Plantation banquet hall in the Spanish Lake area for certain events.

"We have had frequent calls from gay people who want to hold receptions and wedding-type ceremonies, even though they can't legally get married (in Missouri)," said Bovey, 47, who has owned the business with his wife, Dena, since 1989.

"But we operate what, in our minds, is a very faith-based business, even though it's not designated as such by the IRS. And we don't want to participate in something that is contradictory to our faith." Bill Hannegan, a self-employed sign painter and calligrapher whose business is based in the city of St. Louis, where he also lives, said it has been a long-standing tradition in his field to allow workers to opt out of crafting messages to which they are morally opposed.

"No one should be asked to violate their beliefs in creating a message," said Hannegan, 55, who has also energetically opposed smoking ban ordinances throughout the area. …