In his zeal to protect churches from having to perform gay marriages, state Rep. T.J. Berry, R-Kearney, is willing to toss other Missouri marriages aside and label them "domestic unions." This is Berry's third, and hopefully last, effort at an end-run around the Supreme Court's 2015 landmark decision affirming same-sex marriages. Missourians should work to make sure this effort ends as unsuccessfully as the others.
Berry's 377-page House Bill 1434 would rewrite Missouri's marriage laws to declare that any marriage occurring outside of a religious institution would be labeled a domestic union. Such unions could be certified by anyone, not just a clergy member or a judge.
Adding to the insult is the bill's goal to retroactively apply it to all marriages in Missouri before the effective date of Aug. 28. So for those who have long considered themselves married, or are planning to marry, those unions would not legally qualify as marriages. In Berry's legislation, such couples would be in "a contract of domestic union."
His proposed legal contortions are all designed to address the question of gay marriages. Rather than try to prevent gay people from marrying, and therefore run afoul of the 2015 Supreme Court ruling, Berry seeks to take government out of the picture and place marriage solely in the hands of religious institutions.
Imagine the impact this would have on commerce in the state. What businesses would want to locate in a state where employees could only be married in a religious institution?
Under Berry's bill, the baker who refuses to make a wedding cake or the photographer who refuses to take pictures for a same-sex couple's union would be shielded along with religious groups. Missouri's Nondiscrimination Act already excludes protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Missourians.
Despite nearly a decade of efforts to change the law, Missouri does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. That means LBGT people can be fired, evicted from their residences and denied access to public services and accommodations. In Missouri cities with their own anti-discrimination laws, Berry's bill would protect private businesses that refuse service to same-sex couples.
Berry, an ordained Southern Baptist deacon, says the bill would preserve government benefits for married couples of any sexual orientation. The bill would continue to prohibit incest and bigamy and would require a minimum age of 15 for those entering into domestic unions.
That last part is worth considering, particularly since Missouri is among 27 states in the nation where technically there is no minimum marriage age requirement. Currently, parents have the power to sign off on marriages by their minor children. Rep. Jean Evans, R-Manchester, is back this year with House Bill 1630, which would raise the minimum age for marriage to 17 without parental or judicial approval.
That's sensible. Berry's bill is ridiculous.
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