Heated LGBT rights debate continues in Missouri

Over the last decade, the landscape on LGBT rights has shifted rapidly across the nation. What was once considered unthinkable is becoming increasingly commonplace, from gay men and women being allowed to serve openly in the military to the potential for the U.S. Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage this year in all 50 states.

Despite that change, 29 states — including Missouri and Kansas — have no statewide law barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. That means a person can be fired from a job, evicted from an apartment or kicked out of a restaurant for being gay or being perceived to be gay.

Lawmakers were discussing a bill making it illegal in Missouri to discriminate against someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity just weeks after voters in Springfield narrowly voted to repeal a local nondiscrimination ordinance.

Resistance at the Statehouse has forced Missouri gay rights advocates to turn to local government. More than a dozen cities and counties in Missouri, including Kansas City and Jackson County, have passed ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Ron Calzone went to the Missouri Capitol on Wednesday to stand up for his “God-given freedom” to discriminate.

“Everyone’s afraid to say this, so I’m going to say it,” Calzone, a rancher from Maries County in south-central Missouri and director of conservative think tank Missouri First, told a House committee.

“In America, you have a right to discriminate as a private citizen. In America, if you don’t like the color of someone’s eyes or their hair or the way they talk, you have the right to not associate with them.”