An openly gay Missouri state representative told a Farm Bureau staff member that her support for a pro-marriage amendment to the state constitution could result in a loss of federal subsidies to her organization and to the state’s farmers.
The pro-marriage amendment is intended to protect religious leaders and wedding vendors who support marriage — and who oppose single-sex marriage — from legal retaliation.
“There’s no room in public policy for elected officials issuing threats to constituent groups,” said Ryan Johnson, president of Missouri Alliance for Freedom, in a statement to Breitbart News. “I hope that as the debate on religious liberty continues in Missouri we won’t see any future instances of such behavior.”
Senate Joint Resolution 39 passed the Missouri state senate last month along party lines after Democrats held a 39-hour filibuster against the measure. It next moved to the Missouri House’s Emerging Issues Committee, chaired by Republican state Rep. Elijah Haahr. Approval of the measure would place the issue on the ballot for Missourians to vote on themselves.
— Gregg Keller (@RGreggKeller) April 18, 2016
During a hearing of the Emerging Issues Committee, state Rep. Mike Colona (D) — who reportedly identified himself as the only openly gay member of the state legislature — said the following to Ashley McDonald, state legislative affairs director of Missouri Farm Bureau:
I don’t know other states that have attempted to do this by amending the constitution. But, are you aware — what is it Mississippi just passed something like this? A little more draconian than this. But, the Department of Education is now investigating them and whether or not they have religiously protected themselves into discriminating and whether or not to withhold education funds.
I was told, and I don’t know if it’s true or not, that farmers get a lot of federal subsidies. Is there any fear that if we do something like this, that the next thing you know the Department of A is going to knock on the door and say, “Wait a minute, you might not be eligible for all these subsidies because of what this constitutional amendment does.”
When McDonald responded that she had not heard of what Colona described, he pressed:
Well, I have to be honest, this is something new that I heard last night. It was relevant to the discussion… What I wanted to toss out there is that… because your membership is very active and, sometimes my constituents vote against their best interests all the time. But, it’s something that should be put out there. We’re talking about opening the door for litigation, for employee on employer suits. Some of the best applicants… the ability to retain them or even recruit them. What we haven’t talked about is whether or not we would put any of our federal dollars at risk by doing this… I think that should be part of the discussion. Maybe the only inquiry that would come back would be, “Sorry… we’ll take all your money,” or maybe not. But it is something we should talk about.
“It’s rare that you get such a blatant example of government threat and coercion aimed at a constituent group caught on tape,” a Missouri-based campaign consultant tells Breitbart News. “Rep. Colona’s threat was clear: Missouri’s largest rural public policy organization must fall in line with persecuting religious minorities on behalf of the gay lobby or they can expect retribution from Rep. Colona’s friends in the Obama administration.”
“It was disgraceful and Rep. Colona should apologize,” the consultant added.
The measure is defined as follows:
Submitting to the qualified voters of Missouri, an amendment to article I of the Constitution of Missouri, by adding thereto one new section relating to the protection of certain religious organizations and individuals from being penalized by the state because of their sincere religious beliefs or practices concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex.
Colona also told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Wednesday that the state House might be amending the bill since the Senate approved it.
“Depending on the day, depending on the hour, we either have just enough votes or just not enough votes,” Colona said about proposed amendments. “It’s been very fluid.”
He added there were a “couple of amendments floating around out there.”
“Those issues and the underlying constitutional amendment itself are being lobbied so heavily by both sides that it’s hard for the members to commit one way or another,” Colona said.
Chairman Haahr, however, said he would like to see the measure move forward as is.
“I’m leaning toward supporting the bill in its current form, but I’ve said from the beginning, I have a membership of 12 committee members, and it’s a majority vote,” he said. “I’m not going to force them to go one way or the other. They get to vet the bill and they get to decide whether or not they think it should be amended, passed or voted down.”
Once the proposal passes the Emerging Issues Committee, it will travel to at least one more committee before landing on the state House floor. If the House adds amendment(s), the new version would need to be sent to a House-Senate conference committee.
Breitbart News reached out for comment to both Colona and McDonald, but neither responded to the request.