Metro Weekly

Missouri Senate Democrats filibuster anti-LGBT constitutional amendment

Proposed amendment provides broad exemptions for clergy, religious organizations and wedding-related businesses

Missouri State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal (Photo: KOMUnews, via Wikimedia Commons).

Missouri State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal (Photo: KOMUnews, via Wikimedia Commons).

Missouri Senate Democrats are filibustering an anti-LGBT amendment to the state constitution that would prohibit the state from penalizing clergy or business owners who object to participating or contributing to a same-sex marriage.

The filibuster, now entering its 21st hour, has drawn comparisons to former Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis’ 2013 filibuster of an abortion law in Texas that banned abortions after 20 weeks of gestation and imposed severely strict standards on clinics, doctors and the use of abortion-inducing drugs that would have forced many of the clinics in that state to close. If approved by the House and Senate, the amendment will be placed on the ballot for voter approval, and Gov. Jay Nixon (D) would be unable to veto the measure.

As written, the proposed constitutional amendment in Missouri would allow a religious organization to refuse to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony or allow such a ceremony on its property. The amendment would also protect an individual, such as a wedding vendor or other business owner, who wishes to refuse provide goods or services to a same-sex wedding. Business owners and religious organizations would be allowed to cite the law as a defense if sued. However, the amendment would not allow a hospital to refuse to recognize a same-sex marriage as valid for the purposes of visitation rights or making health care decisions on their partner’s behalf.

On Tuesday morning, Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D-University City) led the filibuster for more than seven hours for most of the morning as Democrats attempted to kill the bill. The Democrats have argued that part of the amendment is unnecessary, as clergy are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They also argue that the remainder of the bill is too broad in defining a “religious organization” and would enshrine discrimination in the state’s constitution by allowing businesses to turn away LGBT individuals and same-sex couples.

So far, Republicans, who control the upper chamber 24-8, have not indicated whether they intend to try and shut down the filibuster, instead allowing Democrats to continue talking. But Democrats say they are unwilling to budge, arguing that the constitutional amendment is a non-starter for them. When asked if Republicans would be amenable to keeping the protections for clergy intact while striking the special protections allowing those engaged in commerce to discriminate, Republicans, including the amendment’s sponsor, Sen. Bob Onder (R-Lake St. Louis), balked, saying they did not believe anybody should be compelled to act in opposition to their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” GOP senators also argued that the business owners who would be allowed to turn away same-sex couples are limited to only those who would potentially provide goods or services for a wedding. 

Despite being significantly outnumbered, Democrats’ filibuster received much support via social media from outside organizations and individuals opposed to the amendment, which many political observers expect Missouri voters to approve if it is placed on the ballot.

The ACLU of Missouri encouraged senators to stand strong and praised the efforts of the Democratic caucus to halt the bill.

“ACLU of Missouri is truly inspired by the senators who have stayed awake all night long and are still courageously standing against discrimination by filibustering the extremist SJR 39, which would amend our state’s Constitution to legalize discrimination against LGBT Missourians and their children,” Jeffrey Mittman, the executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, said in a statement. “We’re all Missourians and discrimination against any Missourian is wrong.  We stand with these fair-minded senators and invite all Missourians to join us in advancing equality in our state.”

You can listen to the audio of the Senate debate here.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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