News (USA)

Missouri religious objections measure passes Senate

Missouri religious objections measure passes Senate
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — After a failed 37-hour filibuster by Democrats, the Missouri Senate on Thursday passed a proposal to add greater religious protections to the state constitution for some business owners and individuals opposed to gay marriage.

Senators voted 23-7 along party lines to give the measure final approval following the Democratic filibuster, which ground work in the chamber to a halt.

Division over the measure highlights a national debate over how to balance the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and religious liberties following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer that legalized same-sex marriages in all states.

At issue is legislation to amend the Missouri Constitution to prohibit government penalties against those who cite a “sincere religious belief” while declining to provide goods and services for same-sex marriage ceremonies or ensuing celebrations taking place around the same time as a wedding ceremony.

The measure cites photographers and florists as examples of those who could be covered. It would also shield clergy and worship places that decline to participate in such weddings.

“This amendment will protect those individuals from being commandeered into a wedding ceremony in violation of their religious conscious,” said Republican sponsor Sen. Bob Onder, of Lake St. Louis.

Democrats, who argued it would allow discrimination against LGBT people, stalled an initial vote on the measure from Monday afternoon to early Wednesday, when Republicans used a rare procedural move to end what was the longest continuous filibuster in recent state history.

On Thursday, action by frustrated Democrats continued to delay work in the Senate. Their pushback included nearly six hours spent reviewing and debating what’s in the official state record of Senate action this week before the measure came up for a final vote.

Democratic Sen. Scott Sifton, of Affton, said if senators and voters met his father and uncle, who are gay, and their partners, the proposal would fail and “Missouri voters would reject it unanimously.”

Some Democratic lawmakers invoked images of an era when businesses refused to serve people because of the color of their skin. Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said the proposal could allow businesses to hang signs banning LGBT people.

“It’s wrong, and we shouldn’t do it,” he said. “Generations from now, people will look back on what we’ve done, and they’ll be ashamed of us.”

The proposal, which could go before voters as a ballot measure this year, is among the latest efforts by Republican lawmakers in some states in reaction to the high court’s ruling.

Missouri is among more than 20 states that have Religious Freedom Restoration Acts on the books, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nine states are considering legislation on the topic this year.

Missouri’s existing law bans state and local government agencies from substantially limiting people’s right to follow their religious beliefs unless there is a compelling reason to do so, but the measure passed by the Senate would go further by specifically addressing religious objections to same-sex marriage.

Onder said ordinances barring discrimination against gays and lesbians have been used against people of religious faith. He said his bill is “a shield, not a sword.”

The proposal now heads to the House, where it has support from the Republican speaker and appears likely to pass. House Democrats don’t have the same filibuster powers as senators.

If passed by the Legislature, it would be on the ballot for Missouri voters to decide either in the August primary or November general election. It does not require the approval of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who opposes it.

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