Missouri Senate Passes Lightning-Rod Anti-Gay Bill To State House

The bill would create a constitutional amendment that protects religious people and organizations opposed to same-sex marriage.

After breaking a Democratic attempt to block the legislation earlier this week, Republicans who dominate the Missouri State Senate led a 23-7 vote on Thursday to pass a bill that would protect religious people, religious organizations, and certain businesses opposed to same-sex marriage.

The bill goes next to the state house, where Democrats are outnumbered more than two to one.

Democrats were also outnumbered for the senate vote — by a three to one margin. But they attracted national attention with a record-breaking, 39-hour filibuster that started Monday — a procedural effort to stop legislation they said would “enshrine discrimination into the constitution.”

Yet again on Thursday, Democratic senators held up the chamber for several hours by debating how the filibuster would be documented in the senate's official journal. The debate was a furious game of parliamentary Twister — in part over whether lawmakers had observed senate rules — but the underlying theme was Democrats attempting once more to block the bill.

Senate Joint Resolution 39 would create a constitutional amendment that prohibits the state from penalizing clergy, religious organizations, individuals, and certain businesses who act on their religious beliefs against marriage between two people of the same sex.

Republican Sen. Bob Onder, the bill’s sponsor, issued a statement responding to the bill’s critics this week, saying, “We are fighting for fairness and the right for people to freely live out their faith while not infringing on the rights of others. This is not about discrimination."

SJR 39 is one of dozens of religious freedom bills filed in legislatures around the country — an unprecedented number, filed as a conservative backlash to the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Republican, did not respond to questions from BuzzFeed News about whether his chamber would try to pass the bill.

However, Richardson is likely to face a crush of pressure from corporations, which have increasingly leaned on legislators to block anti-LGBT bills in state legislatures. During this week's filibuster of SJR 39, for example, Dow Chemical, Missouri-based Monsanto, and the St. Louis chamber of commerce announced their opposition.

Because Missouri’s bill concerns a constitutional amendment, SJR 39 does not require approval from of Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, who opposes it as discriminatory. He said in a statement this week, the measure "would be contrary to our values and be harmful to our economy."

If passed by the house, the bill must be approved by popular vote at the ballot.

SJR 39 would protect religious organizations — even if they are only religious “in part” — for taking action based on their opposition to same-sex couples marrying. Those organizations could include a religious society, corporation, entity, school, ministry, charity, social service provider, and others.

Further, it would protect individuals — including “a closely held commercial entity” — from refusing goods of expression or artistic creation for a same-sex wedding.

The state would be barred from penalizing, taxing, denying a tax exemption, refusing a license, terminating a contract, and taking various other actions against a qualified entity.

Missouri lacks a state law protecting LGBT people from discrimination.

Still, LGBT advocates warned the measure, if passed, would create a constitutionally dubious double-standard because it singles out one type of person — those in a same-sex marriage — for discrimination.

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