Josh Hawley, a Republican running for Missouri attorney general, recently came out swinging in favor of state-level religious liberty legislation to ensure that churches and businesses will not be compelled to “participate” in same-sex marriages. Hawley, who is challenging a state senator for the nomination, painted himself as a bold truth-teller, declaring that “my part is to raise this issue and speak out in favor of it and hold [legislators’] feet to the fire.” He also insisted that “this is the way we avoid a cultural war, not prolong it.”
These statements are rather curious, for two reasons. First, and most obviously, churches are shielded by the First Amendment from engaging in any wedding ceremony they disagree with—something that Hawley, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Law, surely understands. But second, and more important, Missouri does not currently protect gay people from discrimination. Not in the workplace, not in public accommodation, not in housing, not in education. An employer could fire a gay worker because he was gay; a store could eject a gay customer because he was gay; a landlord could evict a gay tenant because he was gay; a school could expel a gay student because he was gay—and none of these homophobes would break a single state law.
To glimpse the impact this lack of protection has on Missourians, just look at the case of James Pittman. A gay man, Pittman alleges that he faced vile homophobic harassment at work: Employees called him a “cocksucker,” asked whether he had AIDS, ridiculed him for having a boyfriend, and mocked him when they broke up. Then he was fired. Pittman sued his employer, alleging anti-gay discrimination. But a state court hesitantly threw out his case, explaining that anti-gay workplace discrimination is perfectly legal under Missouri state law.