JEFFERSON CITY — The University of Missouri system’s new policy prohibiting sexual-orientation discrimination would be effectively outlawed under a measure before Missouri’s legislature.
The bill would require that groups receiving state money — such as cities, school districts, and universities — use current federal standards and nothing more.
Sexual orientation falls outside the scope of those standards.
Supporters of the bill point to several reasons for it. While they said it would help reduce the university’s legal vulnerability by preventing the creation of unnecessary protected classes, the core of their arguments for the bill is social.
“Sexual orientation is a private thing, and it’s not the same as race, age or gender,” said Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho. “Should you discriminate based on hair color? No. But should you add a protected class with benefits?”
That feeling is echoed by other senators.
“This acknowledges that we’re seeing social agendas, and it attempts to preempt that,” said Rep. Ed Emery, R-Lamar. “It makes the will of the people clear early.”
But opponents said that instead of protecting the state, this bill would force local groups to choose between human rights and state money.
“It would force organizations to have to choose between protection and state money,” said Jeff Wunrow, executive director of Promo, a gay and lesbian rights group. “Organizations would be hard-pressed to say it’s more important to have an inclusion clause than to take the state money.”
Because the bill applies statewide, it would affect cities and local school districts all over the state. That, the bill’s detractors said, is also an attack on local authority.
“This means that ‘sexual orientation’ will be deleted for all nondiscrimination policies in the state of Missouri, diminishing local control over policy ... and limiting the ability of institutions to fully protect its members,” Carol Snively wrote in an e-mail. Snively drafted several documents presented to the UM system curators before they approved the clause in October.
Snively’s charge is one that Wilson doesn’t entirely deny.
“This is state money,” he said. “I think we ought to have some control over it. Yes, it could take away some local control.”
Though there are several points of contention concerning the bill, one thing is certain: Should it pass, the UM system would have to remove its sexual-orientation clause, a prospect some curators aren’t thrilled about.
“When we were considering the policy, it was clear that we were in the minority by not having that statement,” said Curator Cheryl Walker. “We questioned our legal counsel, and we determined that it was just another consideration, like gender or race.”