Eight of the top college basketball teams in America, along with thousands of their fans, are in St. Louis this weekend for first- and second-round games of the men's Final Four tournament. Local hoops fans, and the hospitality industry that's getting a big jolt of business, should drink deep of March Madness. It could be your last chance.
The NCAA is studying Senate Joint Resolution 39, which would give individuals and businesses the right to opt out of providing services at same-sex wedding ceremonies if they claim religious objections. SJR 39 has passed the Missouri Senate and is awaiting action in the House. If passed, it would go before voters this year.
Last year, when Indiana passed a similar measure, the Indianapolis-based NCAA took a strong stance against it and suggested it could move future games out of the state.
Faced with an economic backlash, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence "clarified" his state's measure, removing the discriminatory language just days before the Final Four was played in Indianapolis. In Indiana, you can mess with a lot of things, but not basketball.
Now comes Missouri with a similarly discriminatory proposal and a long list of amateur sports events scheduled or being courted for coming years. Kansas City wants to host the Big 12 basketball tournament in the next four years.
"It could be devastating from an economic impact standpoint," Kansas City's city manager Troy Schulte told a local radio station. He added, "If those events go away because there's a perception that Missouri and Kansas City are no longer welcoming for these types of events, it'll have a dramatic economic impact on the city as a whole."
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce declared its opposition to SJR 39 on Thursday, citing the measure's expected "detrimental impact" on the state's economy.
St. Louis already has scheduled Olympic gymnastics trials this year, the NCAA Division I men's wrestling and women's hockey and gymnastics finals next year and the SEC men's basketball tournament and the NCAA championships in women's bowling and women's gymnastics in 2018.
Do legislators really want to toy with turning our state into a national pariah? Sports would be just the beginning. A variety of tech companies being lobbied to open shop in St. Louis pride themselves on diverse workforces. Why would they locate in a state where discrimination is enshrined into law?
Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, whose caucus pushed SJR 39 through the Senate and who later explained "Missouri is a very Christian state," said opponents "are trying to put as much fear into the economic Armageddon it might bring this state."
Other lawmakers should choose not to turn such a blind eye to the implications. This measure now threatens the reputations and profit margins of Missouri businesses. As legislators have made abundantly clear, money talks in Jefferson City.
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Photo credit: Phil Roeder