Barbara Shelly

Barbara Shelly: Cheers to Missouri Senate Democrats for filibuster of anti-gay resolution

A Missouri Senate resolution seeks to allow businesses to deny services like cake baking to same-sex couples planning weddings.
A Missouri Senate resolution seeks to allow businesses to deny services like cake baking to same-sex couples planning weddings.

Democrats in the Missouri Senate, who are outnumbered by Republicans three to one, have chosen a resolution that discriminates against same-sex Missourians as the place to take their stand.

Good for them.

A filibuster that began at 4 p.m. Monday was going strong on Tuesday evening. As I write I am listening to Jamilah Nasheed, an irrepressible senator from St. Louis, engage in a prolonged back-and-forth with fellow Democrat Jason Holsman, a more measured debater from Kansas City. They sound a bit punch-drunk, but quite capable of carrying on for a long time.

Democrats in the Missouri General Assembly have to swallow a lot of bitter pills. They can’t block many, or most, of the truely objectionable bills that the Republican majority proposes. They have to pick their spots.

Last year it was a right to work bill. Ron Richard, the powerful Republican who was majority leader at the time, made the horrible decision to block a filibuster a force a vote. That brought business to a halt in the final week of the session.

Richard, now the Senate president pro tem, isn’t making the same mistake this time. He’s letting Democrats talk.

They are filibustering a resolution that would amend the state Constitution to allow individuals and businesses to deny services to same-sex couples who are planning marriages or celebrations of unions, without fear of penalties.

The sponsor, GOP Sen. Bob Onder from St. Charles County, and other supporters frame the measure as a defense of religious freedom.

In fact it is discrimination. Gay marriage is legal throughout the United States. The Missouri Constitution cannot be used to allow business to deny services to same-sex couples or treat them as second-class citizens.

Not to make light of religious concerns, but baking a cake for a same-sex wedding doesn’t make you a party to a union that you might disapprove of. A cake is just a cake. A floral display is just a floral display.

Refusing to bake a cake for a gay marriage doesn’t validate your faith; it just marginalizes the people you’ve denied.

There is enough meanness in the land without enshrining it in the Missouri Constitution. As the filibuster marches on, Missouri Senate Democrats are doing something grand. It has the potential to change the dynamics in the state Capitol.

“I think we have demonstrated a resolve...” Holsman said at hour 26....

“We are demonstrating,” Nasheed interrupted, because of course there was no end in sight....

“...that has the potential to carry through for the rest of the session,” Holsman concluded.

Let’s hope so. However this filibuster turns out, Missouri Senate Democrats have earned a great measure of respect. If they aren’t too tired, ask them to take a bow.