Defiant Democrats Launch Epic Filibuster to Fight Antigay Mo. Bill

Missouri Democratic Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal
Missouri Democratic Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal

Missouri Democrats have spent the past 24 hours speaking continuously on the floor of the state Senate in an effort to filibuster an antigay constitutional amendment that claims to defend “religious freedom.”

The marathon discussion began around 4 p.m. Monday, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which notes that the longest filibuster on record was 38 hours long, over six days, about abortion in 1999. 

While Senate rules allow the minority party to stall a vote by continuously speaking about any topic, local and national media are reporting that the seven Democrats leading the filibuster have spent the vast majority of the past 24 hours discussing the bill and its implications. That bill, known as Senate Joint Resolution 39, would ask Missouri voters to amend the state constitution to protect “certain religious organizations and individuals from being penalized by the state because of their sincere religious beliefs or practices concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex,” according to the bill. 

Republican sponsors of the legislation contend that it, like other so-called religious freedom defense acts introduced around the country, are not discriminatory but rather are necessary to protect the free expression of those who oppose marriage equality. 

“We are fighting for fairness and the right for people to freely live out their faith while not infringing on the rights of others,” Republican Sen. Bob Onder said in a statement issued Tuesday. “This is not about discrimination; it’s about liberty.”

But that’s not how the seven Democrats leading the filibuster see it. Often speaking for more than three hours at a time, Sens. Jamilah Nasheed, Jill Schupp, Scott Sifton, Jason Holsman, Maria Chappelle-Nadal, Joseph Keaveny, and Kiki Curls show no signs of yielding the floor as Tuesday comes to a close.

“We’re more than happy to keep going,” Sen. Scott Sifton, a Democrat representing south St. Louis County, told the Los Angeles Times Tuesday afternoon. “This is a fight we're not going to back down from.” Listen to the ongoing filibuster here

If approved by the state legislature, the amendment would appear before Missouri voters on the November ballot, reports BuzzFeed’s Dominic Holden. Holden has taken the lead in identifying a growing number of businesses that have come out against SJR 39, including agriculture giant Monsanto, Dow Chemicals, and the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce. 

As Zack Ford at ThinkProgress notes, the so-called penalties prohibited by the bill are broadly defined, leading opponents to worry the amendment will act as a license to discriminate against same-sex married couples, and LGBT people in general, who are not currently protected by existing Michigan nondiscrimination or hate-crime laws. In addition to prohibiting a change in tax status, accreditation, or licensing of any business that refuses to serve same-sex couples, the bill also protects anti-LGBT student groups and could even be used to strike down local nondiscrimination ordinances that look to protect LGBT people, according to Ford. 

The Human Rights Campaign contends that the resolute “addresses no real problem in the state as no federal or state law requires religious organization or clergy to sanction or perform same-sex marriages.” In fact, last year’s landmark Supreme Court ruling that established marriage equality nationwide, Obergefell v. Hodges, specifically noted that religious groups could not be compelled to perform or solemnize a same-sex marriage. Additionally, there have been no verified reports of clergy members or churches being forced by any state to participate in any kind of same-sex wedding ceremony. 

“These Missouri Senate Democrats working throughout the night to stop this outrageous assault on LGBT Missourians and their families are our heroes,” said JoDee Winterhof, HRC’s senior vice president for policy and political affairs, in a statement Tuesday morning. “This resolution has nothing to do with religious liberty and everything to do with enshrining anti-LGBT discrimination into the Missouri Constitution. We are incredibly grateful for these state senators who are standing up against overwhelming odds to proclaim that hate and discrimination are not Missouri values.”