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UM sexual orientation clause would be outlawed by House bill

February 02, 2004
By: Alex Yalen
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The University of Missouri's new policy prohibiting sexual-orientation discrimination would be effectively outlawed under a measure before Missouri's legislature.

The bill would require that groups recieving state money -- like cities, school districts, and universities -- utilize current federal standards, and nothing more.

Sexual orientation falls outside the scope of those current standards.

Supporters of the bill point to several reasons for the bill's necessity. While they said it would help reduce the university's legal vulnerabilities by preventing the creation of unecessary protected classes, the core of their arguments for the bill are social.

"Sexual orientation is a private thing, and it's not the same of race, age, or gender," said Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho. "Should you discriminate based on hair color? No. But should you add a protected class with benefits?"

That feeling is echoed by other senators who see the sexual orientation clause as a threat.

"This acknowledges that we're seeing social agendas, and it attempts to pre-empt that," said Rep. Ed Emery, R-Lamar. "It makes the will of the people clear early."

But opponents said that instead of protecting the state, this bill would force local groups to choose between human rights and state money.

"It would force organizations to have to choose between protection and state money," said Jeff Wunrow, Executive Director of PROMO, a gay and lesbian rights group. "Organizations would be hard-pressed to say it's more important to have an inclusion clause than to take the state money."

Because the bill applies statewide, it would affect cities and local school districts all over the state. That, the bill's detractors said, is also an attack on local authority.

"This means that 'sexual orientation' will be deleted for all non-discrimination policies in the state of Missouri, diminishing local control over policy ... and limiting the ability of institutions to fully protect its members," said Carol Snively in an e-mail. Snively drafted several documents presented to the UM system curators before they approved the clause in October.

Snively's charge is one that Wilson doesn't entirely deny.

"This is state money," he said. "I think we ought to have some control over it. Yes, it could take away some local control."

Though there are several points of contention concerning the bill, one thing is certain: Should it pass, the UM system would have to remove its sexual orientation clause, a prospect some curators aren't thrilled about.

"When we were considering the policy, it was clear that we were in the minority by not having that statement," said Curator Cheryl Walker. "We questioned our legal counsel, and we determined that it was just another consideration, like gender or race."

But Wilson said he is neither trying to oppose the Curators, nor is he voicing dissent with their decision. After all, he said, he is an MU alumni, and he supports the school.

"I can't help the timing," he said.