Tuesday morning, Democrats in the Missouri Senate are still chatting about the many businesses that support their LGBT customers and the importance of not discriminating. They have been filibustering since 4:00 PM Monday afternoon to try to block legislation codifying anti-gay discrimination into state law.
What they’ve been fighting all night is Senate Joint Resolution 39, which would advance a constitutional amendment that would protect religious organizations and individuals who oppose same-sex marriage. Mirroring the “First Amendment Defense Act” introduced in Congress and other states, the amendment would protect those who wish to discriminate from any government “penalty.”
A penalty is defined very broadly. For example, the state would be prohibited from altering the tax treatment of an organization or denying it any accreditation, license, or certification. One section specifically refers to withholding any benefit, custody award, foster home placement, or adoption, indicating protections specifically for child placement agencies that would refuse to serve same-sex families.
There are also specific protections for student organizations, who could not be denied meeting space or channels of communication, even if they violate a university’s nondiscrimination policy. One other definition of “penalty” includes recognizing or allowing “an administrative charge or civil claim against a religious organization or individual.” In other words, if any municipality tried to enforce a nondiscrimination law, it would be prohibited under this amendment.
The groups protected from these “penalties” are defined quite broadly:
- No penalty for a religious organization because it acts in accordance “with a sincere religious belief concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex.”
- No penalty for any religious leader who declines to solemnize a marriage “because of a sincere religious belief concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex.”
- No penalty on any church or other house of worship for refusing to make its buildings or facilities open to a marriage ceremony “because of a sincere religious belief concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex.”
- No penalty for any individual “who declines either to be a participant in a marriage or wedding ceremony or to provide goods or services of expressional or artistic creation for such a marriage or ceremony… because of a sincere religious belief concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex.”
The amendment is nothing short of a broad license to discriminate against same-sex couples.
Because it’s a constitutional amendment and not a statute, it would have to be approved by the voters of Missouri. This would further harm the entire LGBT community; multiple studies have found that public votes on same-sex marriage cause measurable psychological stress to all gay, lesbian, and bisexual people and their families — even if they aren’t involved in the campaign. Fighting such measures also costs LGBT groups large sums of money that would otherwise go to support the social wellness of the community.
Around 8:00 AM Central Time, Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D) said that she believes that they could go at least 24 hours, noting that they were already two-thirds of the way there. “I can do this all day,” she said. “This is my prime time.” At that point, she and Sen. Jill Schupp (D) had been debating the measure by themselves for three hours.
PROMO Missouri, the state’s LGBT advocacy organization, is keeping the Senators equipped with a list of individuals and organizations committed to opposing SJR 39, ensuring that they have plenty of fresh relevant content to discuss as the filibuster continues.