Missouri Democrats filibuster to stall bill that would allow discrimination against gay couples

Religious-freedom

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Senate Democrats waged a filibuster that stretched into Tuesday morning to block a vote on a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would grant greater protections to individuals, religious organizations and some businesses opposed to gay marriage.

Democrats spoke for hours in opposition to the measure, which would ban government penalties against individuals and businesses that refuse on religious grounds to provide goods or services of “expressional or artistic creation” for marriage ceremonies or celebrations of same-sex couples. That could include coverage for florists or bakers, who in other states have faced legal challenges for declining to provide services for same-sex weddings.

Clergy and religious leaders also wouldn’t face government punishment for refusing to marry same-sex couples, and places of worship that close their doors for those weddings would be protected.

Sponsor Sen. Bob Onder, a Lake St. Louis Republican said the aim is to prevent the government “from persecuting folks who live out their religious beliefs.” He added that the measure, which would require voter approval, is intentionally crafted to be narrower than other recent measures that have faced a backlash — for example, a proposal in Indiana that was criticized by businesses.

Republican lawmakers in various states, including Georgia and West Virginia, have pushed such measures following the U.S. Supreme Court decision last June that legalized gay marriage nationwide. A constitutional amendment also has been proposed in Oklahoma, and Florida lawmakers last week sent Republican Gov. Rick Scott a bill to specify that churches can’t be forced to marry same-sex couples.

But Democrats argued the measure unfairly targets same-sex couples and could mean the state loses out on prospective employees turned off by the policy.

Creve Coeur Democrat Sen. Jill Schupp said some individuals, businesses and organizations “would be given permission to discriminate” if the amendment is approved.

Missouri Republican leaders from the GOP-controlled House and Senate have voiced support for proposals they say would protect religious liberties. The Democratic filibuster in the Senate is one of few tactics the minority party can use to fight bills with strong Republican backing.

The Supreme Court’s ruling effectively invalidated a Missouri constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman. That amendment had been approved by 70 percent of Missouri voters in 2004 — making Missouri the first state to add a gay-marriage ban to its constitution after the Massachusetts Supreme Court permitted gay marriage in that state.

Missouri also is one of more than 20 states with religious objection laws already in place. Missouri law bans state and local government agencies from substantially limiting a person’s right to follow their religious beliefs unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

If the measure is approved by lawmakers, it likely would appear on the ballot for the August primary or the November general election.

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