After a week where Missouri state senators spent well over 40 hours filibustering — and eventually passing — a sweeping antigay constitutional amendment, the state’s Democratic governor lamented that the contentious proposal is a “distraction” from what really matters.
Gov. Jay Nixon told reporters Friday that Senate Joint Resolution 39, which seeks to amend the state constitution to protect religious individuals and businesses from having to serve same-sex couples, effectively “highjacked” more pressing issues on the legislative agenda.
“It just shortens that field again and takes away the focus of what they said are their priorities this year,” Nixon said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I just want to reorient folks here as to what we need to get accomplished.”
Among those accomplishments that got sidelined was a series of ethics reforms, which Nixon said the Republican-led legislature had frequently touted as a top priority during the opening days of this year’s session, reports the Post-Dispatch.
“We started out with a cavalcade of speeches and press releases and bills,” Nixon said Friday, referencing Republican lawmakers’ pledge to advance an ethics reform package. “All this ‘No. 1 priority, No. 1 priority, gotta get this stuff done.’ Nobody talked about ethics reform this week.”
Indeed, the seven Democratic lawmakers in the state Senate launched a record-breaking filibuster on Monday, speaking continuously on the Senate floor for 39 hours in an effort to block the passage of SJR 39. On Wednesday, Republican members of that chamber invoked a rarely used legislative maneuver to break the minority party’s filibuster, and after another eight-hour filibuster on Thursday, had voted to send the proposal on to the House for consideration.
If passed by both chambers of the Republican-dominated legislature, the resolution would go before Missouri voters, asking them 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 measure’s text.
Republican sponsors of the legislation contend that it and other so-called religious freedom laws proposed around the country are not discriminatory but 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,” said the resolution’s key sponsor, Republican Sen. Bob Onder, on Thursday, according to the Post-Dispatch.
Gov. Nixon, several major international companies, and local businesses have spoken out against the resolution, which by its nature would not pass through the governor’s office for approval. If the resolution is approved by both chambers of the state legislature, however, Nixon would be able to decide whether the question goes to voters on an August ballot or in the general election in November, reports the Post-Dispatch.
At press time, the bill has not yet been scheduled for an initial hearing in the state House.