March 9, 2016 at 9:56 am EST | by Chris Johnson
After 39-hour filibuster, Mo. Senate approves ‘religious freedom’ measure
Missouri, gay news, Washington Blade

The Missouri Senate approved an anti-gay measure despite a 39-hour filibuster. (Photo by Visitjeffersoncity; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

After a 39-hour filibuster from Missouri Democrats attempting to thwart a religious freedom resolution seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination, the state Senate approved the measure early Wednesday by a 21-11 vote.

The measure, Senate Joint Resolution 39, now heads to the Missouri House, where majority approval in that chamber would send the initiative to ballot for voters to ratify on Election Day. According to NBC News, the Republican-led Senate must vote an additional time on the resolution before the House can take it up.

The resolution, sponsored by State Sen. Bob Onder, is a religious freedom measure seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination in Missouri following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide. It would allow religious organizations and individuals to deny services to same-sex couples out of religious objections.

Steph Perkins, executive director of the Missouri statewide LGBT group PROMO, was among those who decried passage of the measure in the Senate.

“We agree that religion is a fundamental right, which is why it is protected in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and in our existing Human Rights Act,” Perkins said. “We are not arguing that clergy and churches should be denied their freedom of religion. But those same religious beliefs cannot be used as a reason to deny someone the same services that are offered to the rest of the public by private businesses. And that is exactly what SJR 39 aims to do. Businesses and organizations have already been rightly concerned about the consequences of this bill and are outspoken in their opposition.”

The lawmakers leading the filibuster effort were State Senate Minority Leader Joseph Keaveny, State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, State Sen. Jill Schupp and State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal.

The 39-hour filibuster of the measure started Monday shortly after 4 p.m. Central Time. According to media outlets, Republicans used a rare procedural move to shut down debate and force a vote on the measure.

Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of ACLU of Missouri, expressed indignation over the Missouri Senate’s approval of the measure, saying Republicans used a “rare procedural move” to shut down debate.

“Discrimination has no place in our state and we are resolved to continue to fight this bill in the House,” Mittman said. “We salute the senators who courageously filibustered this hateful bill for a record-breaking 39 hours, and were willing to keep standing, even as the numbers were against them. The country is watching and we will continue to fight until we’ve landed on the right side of history.”

The law has four parts aimed at allowing religious people and organizations to deny wedding services to same-sex couples.

• It prohibits the state from imposing a penalty on a religious organization that acts in accordance with a sincere religious belief concerning same-sex marriage, which includes the refusal to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony or allowing a same sex wedding ceremony to be performed on the religious organization’s property. (A religious organization under the resolution is construed broadly to include religious societies, corporations, schools, social service providers and hospitals.)
• It bars the state from penalizing an individual who declines, due to sincere religious beliefs, to provide goods of expressional or artistic creation for a same-sex wedding ceremony.
• It explicitly doesn’t prevent the state from providing lawful marriage licenses or other marital benefits. Under the resolution, hospitals couldn’t refuse to treat a marriage as valid for the purposes of a spouse’s right to visitation or to make health care decisions.
• It allows individuals protected under this resolution to use the law as a claim or defense in a legal proceeding regardless of whether the state is a party in the dispute.

The resolution explicitly prohibits the state from forcing clergy to officiate same-sex marriages, but they’re already allowed to opt out of such ceremonies under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, assailed the measure in a statement as reckless legislation that would enable discrimination against LGBT people.

“Religious freedom is one of our nation’s fundamental values, and that’s why it’s firmly protected in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” Warbelow said. “This reckless legislation has nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with enabling discrimination against LGBT Missourians and their families. Discrimination against LGBT people should never be sanctioned by the state, and we call on the Missouri House of Representatives to resoundingly reject this outrageous resolution.”

No LGBT protections are included in Missouri’s state non-discrimination law, but the measure could undermine future prohibitions on anti-LGBT discrimination or undercut city ordinances prohibiting anti-LGBT bias.

Matt McTighe, campaign director for Freedom for All Americans, commended lawmakers for filibustering the measure, which he compared to divisive “religious freedom” measures seen in other states.

“This bill, should it pass and land on the ballot, threatens Missouri’s economy and its reputation as a good place to do business,” McTighe said. “That is a reality that we’ve seen play out in other states, like Indiana and Georgia. This historic filibuster grabbed the attention of the nation and should make it clear to lawmakers in states across the country that they cannot quietly pass discriminatory and dangerous legislation like this.”

Others who spoke out against the measure were the St. Louis Regional Chamber, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Dow Chemical, which operates chemical plants in the state. Democratic presidential candidates Bernard Sanders and Hillary Clinton spoke out in favor of the Missouri filibuster last night on Twitter.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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