- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Missouri Senate Democrats on Tuesday entered day two of a filibuster against a constitutional amendment that would protect religious organizations and individuals who decline to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies.

The filibuster against Senate Joint Resolution 39, which would amend the Missouri state constitution to prevent the government from punishing religious people and businesses who conscientiously object to same-sex marriage, began at 4 p.m. CT Monday and continued throughout the night.

Pro-LGBT groups, which argued the amendment would legally sanction discrimination against gay people in Missouri, praised the stand as heroic, comparing it to former Texas Sen. Wendy Davis’s 2013 filibuster against anti-abortion legislation.

“These Missouri Senate Democrats working throughout the night to stop this outrageous assault on LGBT Missourians and their families are our heroes,” said JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign. “This resolution has nothing to do with religious liberty and everything to do with enshrining anti-LGBT discrimination into the Missouri Constitution.”

State Sen. Bob Onder, who sponsored the amendment, said the provision is necessary in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges last June striking down state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage.

“It’s important right now in the post-Obergefell era to protect clergy and churches and religious organizations, as well as a narrow class of private individuals, mostly wedding vendors who do not want to be pressed into service of ceremonies that violate their religious beliefs,” Mr. Onder said.

Mr. Onder said the amendment would not protect broad refusal of services to gay people, but would give religious people and businesses in the wedding-services industry — such as florists, bakers and parishes — the option not to service same-sex weddings.

Under the resolution, the state would also be barred from revoking the tax exemptions of nonprofit organizations, such as churches, that conscientiously refuse to participate in same-sex weddings. Hospitals would not be allowed to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages for the purpose of visitation rights or spousal health care decisions.

Proponents of the measure contend religious believers have a right not to be forced to violate their consciences.

“True tolerance means the government should not be punishing people who have a different view about marriage,” said Roger Severino, director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation. “And that’s what these laws are meant to prevent.”

Republicans outnumber Democrats in the chamber 24 to 8, but due to Senate rules that allow each member to hold the floor indefinitely for debate, they cannot end the filibuster.

There is a rare procedure used to shut down debate known as the “previous question” rule, but Mr. Onder said it is too early in the legislative process to resort to that option.

“We’re early in session, and I think we’ll give the minority some time to discuss it,” he said. “Of course, that latitude isn’t unlimited, but I think at this point it’s too early to talk about the previous question.”

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