The political climate in Missouri has been, well, interesting lately. A guy running for state senate was called out for describing feminists as "career-obsessed banshees" and "nail-biting manophobic hell-bent feminist she-devils" with "snake-filled heads." The Satanic Temple is fighting for abortion rights. Another candidate was heard on an audio recording blaming the sexual revolution of the '60s and ’70s for the nation’s horrifying human trafficking problem.
And if that’s not enough to get you wondering what might be in Missouri’s water, a Republican state lawmaker is trying to redefine any marriage that takes place outside of a church as a “domestic union.”
In December, state representative T.J. Berry pre-filed HB 1434, a bill that would essentially limit the word marriage to apply to people of faith who have religious ceremonies to tie the knot. Those who decided instead to say their vows at city hall, for example, would get a nifty little sheet of paper that defines their relationship instead as a “domestic union.”
In an email to the Friendly Atheist, Berry, who’s also a Southern Baptist and ordained deacon, explained that he wanted to “put to rest from a government standpoint” the argument over the definition of marriage. (Never mind that the issue was settled in 2015 with Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court case that legalized marriage equality in the U.S., and that Missouri still has an unconstitutional law on the books that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.)
“If someone wants to go through a religious ceremony, they may go to the church that they feel comfortable with,” Berry, a Republican, continued. “If a couple wants to receive government benefits, they would get a civil document from the government.”
Hoping three is his lucky number, this is the third consecutive year Berry has filed this bill. In 2016, he told the Associated Press: “I’m treating everybody the exact same way and leaving space for people to believe what they believe outside of government.”
The whopping 377-page bill, which Berry has admitted is hugely unpopular, basically rewrites all of the state’s statutes regarding marriage, swapping out the word “married” for “a party to a contract of domestic union.”
The problem with that, critics say, is that members of the LGBTQ community and nonreligious straight people who simply don’t want to get married inside a religious institution—hello, no-fuss backyard wedding officiated by your best friend who got ordained on the Internet—may lose out on important federal benefits, such as tax benefits and social security, if their forever union isn’t recognized as an actual marriage.
Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow told Into recently: “The federal government has not historically recognized alternatives to marriage for those rights, benefits, and obligations.” After all, that’s what the fight for marriage equality was all about.
Warbelow added that HB 1434, if passed, would “call into question all couples’ rights.”
The bill currently sits in committee. Even though it’s pretty much gone nowhere for the past two years, there’s no telling what might go down in this legislative session in today’s anti-LGBTQ political climate. Stay tuned.