JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Michael Sam, the first openly gay NFL draftee, slammed a Missouri measure that would shield some businesses that deny services for same-sex weddings, telling fellow opponents Wednesday that it is "the opposite of respect and it is the opposite of equality."
Sam, who came out as gay before the 2014 NFL draft after starring at the University of Missouri, said the measure would make it easier than ever for people to discriminate against members of the LGBT community.
"It does not reflect the Missouri I know," Sam told a crowd of about 80 demonstrators in the Capitol Rotunda, including some of who held signs decrying the proposal as "backward, bigoted and bad for Missouri."
The St. Louis Rams picked Sam in the seventh round before cutting him in training camp.
After Sam spoke, some of the protesters split off to try to persuade members of a House panel to vote against the legislation during an expected committee vote later Wednesday.
The Senate passed the measure passed in March after a failed 37-hour filibuster by Democrats.
If passed by the GOP-led Legislature, it would bypass Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and head straight to voters. They would decide whether to amend the Missouri Constitution to ban government penalties against individuals and businesses that cite their religion while declining goods or services of "expressional or artistic creation" for same-sex weddings.
Critics of religious objections laws say they amount to an invitation for people to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Many businesses have come out against religious objections laws or others that critics view as anti-LGBT, often saying such laws could make it harder to recruit talent to those states.
After North Carolina adopted a law to require transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to their sex at birth, California-based PayPal CEO Dan Schulman said the company is ending plans to hire 400 people for a new operations center in Charlotte.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league found it problematic that North Carolina would limit anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people through the legislation, though he said the league hadn't decided whether to move next year's All-Star game out of Charlotte.
Anheuser-Busch is the latest major employer to join a business coalition to fight the Missouri legislation. Both the Kansas City and St. Louis sports commissions also oppose the measure.
Supporters say economic concerns are overblown and that the proposal is necessary to shield florists and photographers opposed to same-sex marriage. State Sen. Bob Onder, a Lake St. Louis Republican, says he proposed the measure in reaction to last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage.
Onder told a crowd of roughly 200 supporters of the measure Tuesday that it would be wrong to punish businesses that cite religion as justification for denying people service.
"That is not tolerance," Onder said. "That is anti-religious bigotry."
The legislation would need the approval of two House committees before it could be debated by the full House.
Missouri religious protection measure is SJR 39
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