The eight Democratic members of the Missouri Senate took a valiant stand against a blatant attempt to discriminate against gay and lesbian Missourians this week.
For 39 consecutive hours they held the Senate floor, holding off a vote on a measure that would protect individuals and businesses that choose to deny services to same-sex couples. They talked through one long day and two sleepless nights.
It was Republicans who wore down but not in the way opponents of the measure had hoped. Republicans used the blunt force of their outsized majority to kill the filibuster and demand a vote on Senate Joint Resolution 39.
It passed soon after 7 a.m. Wednesday by a 23-9 vote, with Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph joining Democrats.
There is plenty more action to come on the resolution. The House must approve it, and probably will, given the heavy Republican majority in that chamber.
It will then go on a statewide ballot later this year. Sponsors of the measure want it placed in the Missouri Constitution as an amendment, rather than passed as a statute, which could be changed more easily.
To enshrine discrimination in the state constitution would mark a shameful day for Missouri. Voters must follow the lead of Senate Democrats and reject this measure when it comes before them.
The resolution prohibits the state from penalizing a church, religious organization or clergy member for refusing to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony or allow one on its property. This is an unnecessary prohibition, intended as a red herring.
The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees religious groups the right to perform sacraments according to their beliefs without government interference. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell v Hodges decision, which legalized same-sex marriage last summer, specifically reinforces that point.
But the Missouri resolution doesn’t stop there. It also seeks to protect individuals and businesses that cite religious beliefs as a reason to refuse to provide commercial services, such as cakes and floral arrangements, for same-sex weddings.
Far from a religious “shield,” that provision is nothing more than a license to discriminate. It seeks to marginalize gay and lesbian Americans and prevent them from enjoying the same services available to people who are heterosexual.
Also, the resolution defines a “religious organization” very broadly. It includes schools, colleges, charities, hospitals and crisis pregnancy centers, as long as part of their activities are religious.
Although the resolution appears to deal solely with marriage, some legal experts warn that it could be used as the basis for other forms of discrimination against same-sex couples.
At least eight states are considering legislation this year that seeks to protect discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens. (The Kansas Legislature has held an “informational session” on the topic.)
The legislation is hazardous. States that have tried to sanction discrimination against same-sex couples over the past few years have encountered push back ranging from ridicule to the threatened loss of millions of dollars worth of business. Indiana had to rewrite a statute last year after employers and meeting planners threatened to stop doing business in the state.
That’s the risk Missouri runs as the General Assembly’s Republican majority insists on bringing Senate Joint Resolution 39 to a vote. While supporters of the resolution promote bigotry, employers and other groups are insisting on a more fair and inclusive society. They will not be fooled by this thin attempt at discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.