For more than 20 years, Missouri has failed to enact the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act (MONA) into law, a bill that would expand the state’s civil rights protections to include LGBTQ people.
But rather than work toward that goal, state House lawmakers spent their time Wednesday listening to testimony from an activist on the conservative fringes, who spoke in opposition to two bills that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“I believe that we have a God-given right to discriminate,” Ron Calzone told the House committee, according to the Kansas City Star. “We actually have a God-given responsibility, a duty, to sometimes discriminate.”
Calzone — who serves as director of an obscure organization called Missouri First, which, among other goals, aims to “dispel the false notions about ‘separation of church and state'” and to “assert and defend the appropriate sovereignty of Missourians” — also mentioned property rights as justification for denying customers service at restaurants, based on race, religion, or gender.
“If a restaurant owner doesn’t want to serve people with freckles, that should be his choice,” Calzone added.
When later pressed by the Star about his comments, Calzone went further, telling the editorial board that, “Forcing someone to serve someone they do not want to serve is a form of slavery.”
State Rep. Greg Razer (D), one of four openly gay members of the Missouri General Assembly and a sponsor of one of the bills that would provide protections for LGBTQ people, expressed his frustration with the committee’s “silence and inaction.”
“It’s not the voices of the Westboro Baptist Church that concern me,” he told the Star this week, referring to the anti-gay hate group based in Kansas, which recently traveled to Jefferson City, Missouri, to protest Razer and, what they called, his “sodomite game plan.”
“It’s the silence of the majority party and their leadership that concern me,” Razer said.
Indeed House Speaker Elijah Haahr (R) has proceeded slowly and dispassionately on anti-discrimination legislation, assigning MONA to a committee just one month before the statehouse was set to adjourn for the year.
And while it is likely that most people in Missouri would find views like Calzone’s extreme, as the Star’s editorial board argued, there is clearly a receptive audience for it in some parts of the state.
The MONA debate is “a good one for the legislature to have,” Haahr said, according to the Star. “I don’t know that the issue is necessarily ripe, but I think that’s what the committee process is for to work through the issue and figure out if there’s a path forward for it.”
UPDATE: In an email to ThinkProgress on Sunday, Ron Calzone said that he is not, in fact, an “anti-gay activist,” but a “pro-property rights activist.”