Missouri Democrats filibuster for over 24 hours -- and counting -- against 'religious beliefs' bill

A marathon filibuster by Missouri Senate Democrats has lasted longer than 27 hours as of Tuesday evening. LGBT groups and large corporations joined in opposition to a constitutional amendment that would allow businesses to refuse to provide services for same-sex marriage ceremonies.

A group of at least seven Democrats had spoken nonstop since Monday afternoon in opposition to Senate Joint Resolution No. 39, which Republicans say would protect religious liberties and which Democrats say would enshrine anti-gay discrimination in state law.

In that time, support came in from sources as diverse as Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, corporate giants Dow Chemical and Monsanto, and Democratic Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, who once staged a marathon filibuster of her own, during which she famously wore a pair of pink sneakers.

“I'm happy to loan a certain pair of sneakers for the cause,” Davis tweeted to a leader of the filibuster, Missouri state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, after she and her fellow Democrats passed the 24-hour mark.

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“Standing up for our LGBTQ sisters and brothers is the duty of all elected officials,” Sanders tweeted from his presidential campaign account. “This should make us all proud.”

Agricultural giant Monsanto, whose headquarters are in St. Louis, threw its support behind the Democrats on Tuesday, tweeting out, “We call on other businesses and the ag community to join us in speaking out against discrimination in Missouri and around the world.”

By Tuesday evening, the mood had gotten a bit loosey-goosey after more than an entire day of filibustering. Lawmakers told stories about their own pasts and talked about karate and meditation, laughing as other lawmakers nitpicked over minor points of Senate procedure.

But the senators planned to keep going. Chappelle-Nadal said she planned to speak for three hours Tuesday evening, “take a break, and be fresh at 3 a.m.”

The constitutional amendment is part of a national wave of conservative legislation that has been introduced around the country to protect religious business owners after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that same-sex marriage bans were unconstitutional.

It would bar the state from penalizing any religious organization -- including churches, corporations, schools and hospitals, and their employees -- “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.”

The legislation would also prevent the state from penalizing religious organizations or clergy for participating in or supporting same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Representatives from religious groups have backed the amendment, including the Missouri Catholic Conference. The legislation offers “a reasonable accommodation that can respect the dignity of all persons, including same-sex couples and those who, because of their religious beliefs, cannot in good conscience participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony in such a direct and intimate manner,” the group said in a statement.

LGBT advocates say the amendment would override municipalities' nondiscrimination statutes. The legislation “would have reckless intended and unintended consequences,” said the Human Rights Campaign, a national advocacy group.

“If voted into law, LGBT people and their families could suddenly find themselves at risk of being denied many basic services,” the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement. “Taxpayer funded foster care providers and adoption agencies could refuse to place children in need of loving homes with same-sex couples. Taxpayer funded homeless shelters could turn away LGBT couples and their families.”

A similar bill in Indiana, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, drew widespread condemnation and threats of boycotts from LGBT activists and corporations in 2015.

A top Missouri business group cited the Indiana controversy as a reason not to go forward with the proposed amendment.

“We are concerned that some provisions of Senate Joint Resolution 39 are directly counter to our Missouri values and will have significant negative economic effects on our state,” the St. Louis Regional Chamber said in a statement Monday.

“As we saw in the reaction to the signing of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act last year, laws that allow those engaged in public commerce to discriminate will hurt our economy and our image as a welcoming state."

Dow Chemical also tweeted its support for the Democratic effort: “Dow opposes Missouri Senate Bill #SJR39 and any efforts that allow for discrimination of any colleague or citizen.”

The California Legislature’s LGBT Caucus cheered on the Missouri lawmakers.

“We, as members of the LGBT Caucus, openly applaud and offer our solidarity and support to the Missouri legislators who are doing all they can to halt an antigay constitutional amendment from progressing any further,” the caucus said in a statement.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Bob Onder, did not respond to an email or a voicemail seeking comment.

“It sends a terrible signal to the nation and to the world about the kind of place Missouri is,” Sen. Scott Sifton, a Democrat who represents south St. Louis County, said in a telephone interview Tuesday morning.

“We’re more than happy to keep going. This is a fight we're not going to back down from,” Sifton said.

The amendment, which would be placed on the ballot as soon as November if approved, was approved by a Senate committee on Feb. 25 and has not yet been voted upon by Missouri’s House or Senate. Both chambers are Republican-dominated.

Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat from the St. Louis area who was a key voice during the protests in Ferguson, spoke for about seven hours early Tuesday before saying she wanted to go home and take a shower -- and then keep the filibuster going for up to 30 hours.

“I want to do my part and just have a conversation about an issue I feel is really important to us,” Chappelle-Nadal said from the Senate floor.

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5:55 p.m.: The story was updated throughout with new details.

The story was originally published at 11:34 a.m.