UPDATED at 10:30 a.m. with more comments from Democratic Sen. Scott Sifton of Affton.

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JEFFERSON CITY • Democrats in the Missouri Senate are in their 21st hour of blocking a proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting government penalties for clergy and wedding vendors who decline to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies.

The overnight filibuster, which began shortly after 4 p.m. Monday, was targeted at a resolution introduced by Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis. The resolution would need only the approval of the Missouri House and Senate to be placed on the ballot. If approved, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon would choose to put the question on either the August or November ballots.

Soon after the proposal was brought up on the Senate floor, Democrats began their effort to kill the bill. They argued that the proposal would enshrine discrimination against gay people into the state’s constitution and damage the state’s economy.

They pointed to Indiana, where a law was signed last year that opponents said would allow discrimination on religious grounds. Since its passage, and following a nationwide backlash, the state has lost out on 12 conventions and $60 million in economic impact, according to Indianapolis’ nonprofit tourism group, Visit Indy.

Opponents have also charged that under the First Amendment, churches and clergy already don’t have to perform same-sex marriages. The definition of “religious organization” is also broadly defined in the resolution, opponents say, meaning that widespread discrimination could be in store.

Onder disputes that, and has repeatedly said his proposal is a “shield and not a sword.” He cited an example from Oregon, where bakery owners last summer were ordered to pay damages to a lesbian couple for refusing to sell them a wedding cake.

“There was no desire to discriminate against them; the desire was to not be forced to testify to a religious point of view that she found contradictory to her faith,” Onder said, referring to the bakery owner.

On Tuesday, after more than 16 hours of debate, Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, offered no indication Republicans who control the majority were ready to shut things down.

“We’re prepared to stay,” Richard said. “We’re going to stay until we get finished.”

Democratic Sen. Joe Keaveny of St. Louis, and the minority floor leader, said at 9 a.m. Tuesday that his caucus wouldn’t budge.

“I don’t see right now where there’s room for compromise,” Keaveny said. “I’ll keep an open mind about this, but to allow — I think we would be derelict if we allowed any form of discrimination to be put into our state constitution.”

Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, said at 10 a.m. Tuesday that there had been no talk of compromise.

“There has been no discussion of any compromise at any time, and that’s not coming from us — that’s them,” Sifton said, referring to Republicans. “There has been no conversation whatsoever to this point about how we might get this resolved.”

Onder said he was surprised Democrats were trying to block the proposed constitutional amendment.

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“I think the bill really helps to reinforce the traditions of pluralism and tolerance in our society,” Onder said.

But Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said that a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person could find the resolution offensive.

“For me, being on this floor right now, I look at this bill and I read it through their eyes,” Holsman said. “And when I read it through their eyes, I see a mean-spirited attempt to try and make the laws apply differently.

Sifton asked Monday night how the amendment would affect the state’s local ordinances that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, including those in the city of St. Louis, St. Louis County and in numerous St. Louis County municipalities.

Onder said that the ordinances would remain in effect, except for the religious exemption.

In addition to railing against the proposal, Democrats spent much of the night talking about family, friends and travel in order to keep Republicans who hold majorities in the chamber from voting on the measure.

Some members left the floor to nap in their offices or to eat.

“I’ve been on the floor the whole time. I did leave a couple of times to grab coffee,” Onder said.


Debate through most of the night was technically not on the bill itself, but on a series of amendments offered by Sifton.

The point of the amendments: to change the measure to allow people to deny services based on any religious objection.

“This bill singles out one and only one religious belief for protection,” Sifton said. “My amendment simply says that if we’re going to protect the free expression of religion, we’re going to do it across the board and not just single out one view for protection.”

But Onder has said Monday night that religious objections to same-sex marriage in particular are “under siege.”

Debate has strayed off-topic multiple times, but as of 10:30 a.m. Tuesday there had yet to be a vote on Sifton’s amendment. Debate on the underlying bill can’t move forward until the Senate votes on Sifton’s amendment or he withdraws it.

Kurt Erickson of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this story.

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