Marathon filibuster: Missouri Democrats try to block anti-gay, religious freedom bill

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Passing the 24 hour mark, Missouri Senate Democrats continue to filibuster in hopes of halting the advance of a constitutional amendment that would allow businesses and individuals in the state to refuse goods or services for same-sex marriages based on religious beliefs.

The filibuster of Senate Joint Resolution 39 began at 4:00 p.m. local time on Monday. The eight-member Democratic Caucus has maintained the filibuster since then, currently going on for over 24 hours.

Some senators said they plan to go at least 24 hours in their effort, as the minority party in the Missouri Senate, to block the resolution backed by the Republican majority.

“I can do this all day,” said Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal at 8 a.m. Tuesday, according to Think Progress. “This is my prime time.”

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard said he would let the filibuster go on for 24 hours. "Maybe even longer. Whatever it takes," he said, according to statehouse reporter Crystal Thomas.

The longest filibuster in recent Missouri history was a 30-hour effort by Democrats in 2003 to halt legislation that aimed to limit high-amount civil lawsuits.

Republican state lieutenant governor Peter Kinder tweeted that Senate Democrats should "stand down and allow religious liberty to thrive in Missouri."

Joint Resolution 39 would prohibit "the state from imposing a penalty on a religious organization who acts in accordance with a sincere religious belief concerning same sex marriage, which includes the refusal to perform a same sex marriage ceremony or allow a same sex wedding ceremony to be performed on the religious organization's property."

The state could not penalize "an individual who declines, due to sincere religious beliefs, to provide goods of expressional or artistic creation for a same sex wedding ceremony" if the resolution is passed by the state Senate, then later approved by Missouri voters in the form of an amendment to the state constitution.

For instance, if a Missouri business or individual refuses, on religious grounds, to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, they could not be penalized for outright discrimination.

The resolution is similar to Indiana's religious freedom restoration act, a religious exemption law that attracted boycotts and business efforts in the state last year, costing Indiana as much as $60 million in economic benefits, according to a tourism group survey.

Critics have pointed out that the resolution is ultimately unnecessary, as Missouri's Human Rights Act protects from discrimination based on race, gender, and religious, but not sexual orientation or gender identity. Furthermore, state and local government agencies cannot curb a person's actions based on religious beliefs without a compelling reason.

Thus, lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual people in Missouri are already allowed to be discriminated against in a host of ways, in employment, housing, or simply when patronizing a restaurant.

There are no known cases of the state penalizing anyone in relation to a same-sex marriage service, according to the Riverfront Times.

The resolution was introduced by Republican Senator Bob Onder on February 17, quickly finding its way to the Senate floor by the evening of March 7. Onder characterized the resolution as safety net against state encroachment on religious beliefs.

“This amendment is entirely defensive, in that it prevents state and local governments from imposing penalties,” Onder said, according to the Kansas City Star. “It is a shield, not a sword.”

Missouri Democrats say the bill reminds them of when it was legal to discriminate on the basis of a person's skin color.

“A lot of the arguments I’m hearing of proponents of this bill harken back to the same arguments we heard back in 1964 when people were fighting for segregation in Mississippi,” said Senator Jason Holsman.

When reading the measure through the eyes of an LGBT person, “I see a mean spirited attempt to try to make the laws apply differently to me than they do to you," Holsman added.

Onder said the measure was not driven by"bigoted motivation."

“Their is no desire to discriminate against anyone,” Onder said. “This would simply protect people from being persecuted based on their religious beliefs.”

The resolution could shield an adoption agency from penalty should it discriminate against same-sex couples, ThinkProgress noted, adding that local municipalities could be prohibited from enforcing a nondiscrimination law based on the resolution's language.

Business groups have come out against the resolution in fear of the kind of lost profits that Indiana suffered after enactment of its own religious exemption bill.

“While we understand the desire to protect clergy and religious institutions from having to perform ceremonies counter to their beliefs, expanding protections to individuals and private businesses that voluntarily enter the stream of public commerce sends the message to the rest of the country that Missouri condones discrimination,” the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce said on Monday.

Missouri-based Monsanto Company came out against the potential constitutional amendment in a public release.

"Monsanto has a long history of employing a diverse workforce and creating an inclusive environment for our employees," the agricultural biotechnology company said in a statement. "Monsanto is calling on other businesses and the agricultural community to join the company in speaking out against discrimination here in our home state of Missouri and around the world."

Dow Chemical, which has two plants in Missouri, tweeted its opposition, calling the resolution a way to “allow for discrimination.”

Filibusters are essentially efforts by opponents of certain legislation to delay a final vote. Famous filibusters in the US Senate include Senator Strom Thurmond's 24-hour filibuster that sought to thwart the Civil Rights Act of 1957. In Texas, state Senator Wendy Davis successfully filibustered a state law in 2013 that restricted abortion access, speaking alone for more than 11 hours. The legislation was eventually passed and is now the subject of a US Supreme Court case.