JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Republicans in Missouri are looking at expanding state protections for religious liberty after the jailing of a county clerk in Kentucky over her refusal to allow her office to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Kim Davis was released from jail yesterday after spending a few days behind bars. Davis, who serves as the Rowan County Clerk in Kentucky, refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples after citing her sincere religious beliefs. When Davis’ case lost on appeal and a judge ordered her to begin issuing the licenses or designate a deputy to do so, Davis refused, and the Rowan County Clerk’s office issues no marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite the Supreme Court ruling last June that legalized gay marriage nationally.
Davis was cited for contempt of court and jailed. Since then, some Missouri Republicans have voiced concern that private citizens or government employees may be similarly imprisoned if their belief conflicts with the law. University of Missouri-Columbia law professor Josh Hawley, who is also running as a Republican for attorney general, voiced support for Davis last week and promised to defend cases like hers if elected.
The Missouri Alliance for Freedom — a conservative political organization ran by Ryan Johnson — announced earlier today that they had secured two state senators to support legislation next year aimed directly at the Davis controversy. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, who is running against Hawley for AG, and Sen. Bob Onder, a St. Louis Republican freshman, have both promised to support legislation from MAF that will “protect religious liberty.”
“With attacks on religious liberty inbound, the Missouri Alliance for Freedom is offering model legislation to protect Missourians religious freedom to be sponsored by State Senator Kurt Schaefer,” the group said in a release. “The legislation will protect individuals, corporations, religious organizations and others who hold religious beliefs that do not comport with same-sex marriage proponents.”
The move marks the second time Schaefer has leapt onto a national story to rally Missouri conservatives. The Columbia-area Republican is also chairman of the state senate committee investigating Planned Parenthood, a role he’ll likely emphasize heavily on the campaign trail.
Missouri already has a Religious Freedom Restoration Act that stipulates the state must accommodate government employee’s sincere religious belief, provided that doing so is the least burdensome manner possible and it does not inhibit or interfere with a compelling government interest. While Davis’ supporters say her objections should be honored by the state, groups opposed like the ACLU say Davis’ refusal to allow anyone in her office from issuing marriage licenses for gay couples did not constitute a reasonable accommodation of her belief.
In Missouri, recorders of deeds issue marriage licenses, including those for gay couples. Currently, no office is refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.