JEFFERSON CITY — Many Missouri Democrats on Wednesday praised Gov. Jay Nixon's call to bar discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation, but a tepid response from the Republicans who control the legislature cast doubt on the proposal's future.
State law currently bars discrimination based upon race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex and disability in employment, housing and public accommodations. It also bars employers from discriminating based on a person's age.
Nixon, though, said during his State of the State address on Tuesday that it's time for Missouri to add sexual orientation to the list.
"No Missourian should be fired because of who they are or who they love," Nixon said.
In 2004, Missouri became the first state to enact a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, after the Massachusetts high court permitted gay marriage there. The amendment was approved by 70 percent of the vote.
Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus said she was excited to see her fellow Democrat publicly embrace the issue. Justus, D-Kansas City, is a lesbian and sponsored legislation last year to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Senate passed her bill on the last day of session, but the House didn't vote on it.
Many Republicans, though, were less enthusiastic about Nixon's proposal.
"We haven't discussed that issue," said Republican House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka. "I'm not sure about the details regarding that matter."
But, at least one of Jones' caucus members was more supportive of the measure. Rep. Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles, said Republicans should "stay out of the bedroom."
"I think it makes perfect sense. It is a small government idea that we as Republicans believe that government should stay out of our business," she said.
Other House members weren't as open to Nixon's plan. Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-St. Charles, said the governor should have spent more time talking about other policy issues, such as a state law that allows students in failing schools to transfer to neighboring accredited districts. Nixon said the issue needs to be looked at, but he offered no specifics. Others objected on religious grounds.
"I have a problem with Jay Nixon saying more gay rights and quoting the Bible in the same speech," tweeted Rep. Shawn Rhoads after the speech.
Rhoads, R-West Plains, said Wednesday he doesn't think anyone should be discriminated against, but opposes Nixon's stance on gay rights and the inclusion of the proposal in his speech.
Justus introduced the legislation in the Senate again on Tuesday. It hasn't yet been referred to a committee. Nine Republicans voted in support of her bill last year, including Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles. Opponents said at the time it could allow for more lawsuits against Missouri businesses.
Nixon's embrace of the anti-discrimination bill is the latest of a string of policy measures championed by the governor aimed at extending protections to the gay community. Last year, Nixon announced support for gay marriage and directed state tax officials to accept jointly filed returns from same-sex couples who have legally married in other states.
In 2010, Nixon issued an executive order expanding nondiscrimination policies to cover sexual orientation and military service. The order applied to the executive branch of state government and states that people cannot be treated differently based on sexual orientation or veteran status for jobs and various state services such as licensing, job training and financial assistance.