"I'm not God. I am not God. But I am a Christian. And I put my faith in God and the Lord. I don't put my faith in man." These were the words spoken by Jim Hansen to justify his vote on Senate Joint Resolution 39, a religious freedom amendment that would severely hamper LGBT rights.
"I'm putting my faith and trust in God," the Missouri Representative said, "He will be the judge."
And with that, Hansen voted against SJR 39. And the amendment, which had been summarily passed in the Missouri Senate, was dead. Hansen's was the deciding vote.
The failure of SJR 39 is especially uplifting in light of the many hurtful anti-gay laws recently passed in Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, Tennessee and other states. While legislators throughout the nation passed harmful laws, representatives in Missouri, among them devout conservatives, somehow got it right.
Here's how that happened.
🌈🌈🌈SJR 39, penned by Senator Bob Onder, was a nasty bit of legislation. The amendment would have blocked the state from "from imposing a penalty on a religious organization who acts in accordance with a sincere religious belief concerning same sex marriage." Those actions included "the refusal to perform a same sex marriage ceremony or allow a same sex wedding ceremony to be performed on the religious organization's property," and "provid[ing] goods of expressional or artistic creation for a same sex wedding ceremony."
Opponents argued that the amendment's vague, broad language essentially legalized discrimination against Missouri's LGBT community. The Huffington Post explained in March:
It means state-contracted counselors, for example, could deny services to people in same-sex marriages. Taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies could refuse to place children in their homes. State-funded homeless shelters could turn away people in a same-sex marriage. Government employees could refuse to file official forms for such people, a la Kim Davis, or decline to provide state tax benefits to them.
Missouri's Senate Democrats were well aware of the implications of adding the amendment to the state's constitution, and staged a 39-hour-long filibuster to try to block it. But the effort proved futile, and the amendment landed in the laps of the state's House of Representatives.
Representative Mike Colona, the only openly gay member of the legislature, told me in a phone interview that the filibuster had a mixed effect on how the resolution was approached in the House. "What that did was put House Republican leadership on notice that they needed to handle this with velvet gloves," he explained.
The House took a full month to mull over the amendment before voting. "We had a four-and-a-half hour-long hearing, executive sessions… took the proper amount of time to go through documentation," Colona said.
With a national spotlight shining on them thanks to the filibuster, and careful to avoid bringing up past indiscretions, the House Republicans wanted everything to go smoothly.
Colona and the other staunch opponents of the bill, however, remained concerned the amendment's author would offer some modifications, rendering it more palatable to House Republicans but still fundamentally anti-gay. "My fear was that by removing the most egregious portions of the constitutional amendment, we would lose some of the Republicans on the committee." Colona said he was worried about the possibility of a water-downed resolution until the final moments before the vote. But ultimately, the legislature voted on the original amendment.
There were practical reasons to vote against SJR 39. Corporate boycotts against North Carolina were costly, and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce warned legislators that Missouri would suffer if the amendment became law. Plus, some lawyers argued that SJR 39 would violate the constitution's Establishment Clause.
All this stacked the deck against SJR 39, but Colona says that what guaranteed a vote was simple: Missouri's House Republicans actually know, and work with, gay people. "We’ve been fortunate in Missouri to have folks in the LGBT community at the table," Colona said, quipping, "if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu."
Colona's point is simple: The more lawmakers see LGBT people as their colleagues, peers and love ones, rather than a faceless constituency, the more likely they are to think about the harmful implications of anti-gay legislation. "It’s extremely important to have LGBT team members as elected members of the General Assembly… it brings a whole new perspective to the conversation."
That type of interaction, says Colona, is "what changes hearts and minds."
🌈🌈🌈Listening to Hansen's emotional testimony, it certainly seems he voted with his conscience.
Hansen's testimony starts around the 23:30 mark.
"You can be a Christian with a big heart, or a little heart," he said, adding, "I have family that's in this situation." And he paused for a long time, and eventually eked out, "But I love 'em."
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.