A bill that would permit businesses to deny or restrict service to gay people on religious grounds advanced in the Missouri Senate on March 9. The controversial legislation moved forward following a failed filibuster attempt led by Democrats.
Senate Joint Resolution 39 was filibustered for over 36 hours, until Republicans managed to break the filibuster using a legislative maneuver and voted the bill forward.
The bill would allow churches and clergy to decline to host or perform ceremonies or other services for same-sex couples, and it would prevent Missouri from penalizing “a religious organization on the basis that the organization believes or acts in accordance with a sincere religious belief concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex," NPR reports.
The bill would also protect businesses that deny services to gay people based on religious beliefs, as well as individuals who do not wish to “personally be a participant in a wedding or marriage.”
The bill’s supporters said the measure is needed to protect religious freedom, and the bill's sponsor maintained that “it would not harm the LGBT community or seek to revoke their right to marry,” according to NPR.
Democrats opposing the bill said it would encourage discrimination against gays and could incite boycotts against the state's businesses.
“I represent a very large contingent of citizens who self-identify as either gay, or bi[sexual], or lesbian, or transgender," Democratic State Sen. Jason Holsman, who led the filibuster, said. " ... I look at this bill and read it through their eyes, and when I read it through their eyes, I see a mean-spirited attempt to try and make the laws apply differently to me than they [do] for you.”
Democrats and Republicans sparred over whether the new bill would protect religious freedom or violate equal protection under the law.
“I’m not asking the maker of wedding cakes to do anything but make wedding cakes for those patrons who want to purchase wedding cakes,” Democratic State Sen. Jill Schupp said, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
“And violate their conscience?” Republican State Sen. Ed Emery responded.
“Well, you know what, violating conscience would be forcing them to marry someone of the same sex," Schupp said. "That would be violating their conscience."
The bill was given preliminary approval in a 23-9 vote in the Missouri Senate. A final vote is expected on March 10, and it will then head to the House for further action.