Let there be no ambiguity anymore: GOP gubernatorial hopeful Eric Greitens opposes a so-called “religious shield” amendment that’s dominated the Missouri General Assembly’s attention.
It's a stance that sets him apart from his Republican rivals — and has stoked questions about the former Navy SEAL and author’s conservative credentials.
Earlier this week, St. Louis Public Radio published an article detailing the five major gubernatorial candidates’ position on what’s commonly known as SJR 39. That amendment would legally shield people from participating in or selling services to a same-sex wedding.
Three Republican candidates — Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, former U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway and businessman John Brunner — expressed support for the measure, contending it protects the religious beliefs of business owners who oppose same-sex marriage. The likely Democratic nominee, Attorney General Chris Koster, strongly opposes SJR39, adding that it could provide a disincentive for potential employees and employers to operate in Missouri.
This reporter sent two e-mails to Greitens’ campaign last week, but did not receive a response before the article was published on Monday morning. Other reporters and political operatives from both parties began to take notice, especially because Greitens used to be a Democrat and has taken significant amounts of money from donors who support LGBT rights.
After the Missouri Times published a statement earlier Tuesday that didn’t make clear whether he supported SJR39 going on the ballot or being adopted into the Constitution, Greitens’ campaign sent St. Louis Public Radio a statement clarifying his opposition to the measure:
“It is a fact that people of faith are under attack in America, and our religious liberties are being threatened. That is why I respect and applaud the proponents of SJR39 for taking action to protect religious freedom. However, I don't believe this legislation is the right approach. I oppose SJR39 because I believe that while it is well-intentioned, it could unintentionally threaten our economy and job creation. Here in Missouri, we are already 47th in job growth and 42nd in wage growth. We simply cannot afford more policies from Jeff City that have the potential to kill jobs.”
The “potential to kill jobs" line is a reference to how the state’s business groups and major corporations have come out against SJR 39. And some companies have shelved economic development opportunities in states that passed laws perceived as antagonistic to the gay community.
“This debate doesn’t have be a choice between protecting religious liberties or protecting Missouri jobs. We can and we must do both, but it will take real leadership,” Greitens said. “As governor, I will protect the religious liberties of all Missourians, and ensure that pastors, rabbis, priests, and all members of the clergy are never forced to perform any ceremony that goes against their religious beliefs. At the same time, I will work everyday to make Missouri the top state in the nation to create and protect good-paying jobs.
“As a Navy SEAL, I was proud to serve in a U.S. military which protected religious liberty and ensured non-discrimination,” he added. “As governor, I will use that same common-sense conservative approach to protect the religious liberties and freedoms of all Missourians.”
If the House approves SJR 39 without any changes, it will go to the ballot this year. It’s unclear whether Gov. Jay Nixon would schedule a vote on the measure in August or November, but it could have a major impact on the gubernatorial race.
For one thing, socially conservative Missourians are a major force in GOP primaries — especially in outstate Missouri. For instance: Missourians voted overwhelmingly in 2004 to ban same-sex marriage. And more recently in 2012, voters approved a constitutional amendment aimed at protecting the "right to pray."
On the other hand, similar measures in Indiana and Mississippi elicited substantial backlash from businesses and progressive activists. Especially if SJR 39 is up for a vote in November, it’s not out of the question that a substantial opposition effort could influence how the governor’s race shakes out.
In any case, other candidates took notice of Greitens’ opposition to SJR 39 – including Kinder:
— Peter Kinder (@PeterKinder) April 20, 2016
Brunner’s campaign alluded to Greitens’ Democratic past when it issued a statement claiming that “he's back with the Democrats in their fight against our 1st Amendment religious liberty.”
“From the Marine Corps to the factory floor to the mission field, John Brunner is the only candidate for Missouri governor who will protect religious liberty and bring jobs back to our state,” the statement said. “John Brunner won't surrender our religious liberties to raise funds from liberal activists outside of Missouri. John Brunner can't be bought.”
While applauding Greitens decision to “stand with the LGBT community against discrimination,” Missouri Democratic Party David Turner asked: “why did it take so long?”
“Eric Greitens loves to claim he is a political outsider, but in reality he is just a political weathervane,” Turner said. “True courage would have been standing against SJR39 during the 40-hour filibuster, or when Missouri businesses came out overwhelmingly against it, or earlier today while Republicans were holding a rally in support of the measure.”