JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The longest consecutive filibuster in state history endured through a second night as Senate Democrats debated in shifts as the Republican majority was forced to answer hourly quorum calls as each side stood deadlocked in a test of wills over a bill that both sides define very differently.
Senator Bob Onder’s, R-Wentzville, SJR39 would place on the ballot an amendment to the state constitution that would forbid penalties being levied on certain groups who refuse to provide wedding related services in gay weddings.
Republicans argue that it’s a matter of defending religious freedom, and a defensive measure laser focused specifically on marriage services. Their position is that it relates only to clergy and “expressional and artistic” services. Wedding vendors would be protected only if the vendor does not want to be forced to be a participant in a wedding ceremony by providing goods or services of an expressional or artistic nature for a wedding or reception.
Senate Republicans have stressed the amendment, if passed, would not allow a county clerk to refuse to issue gay couples a marriage license since that clerk is not a “religious organization,” nor does a county clerk fit the definition of wedding vendor.
However, over the past more than 36 hours, Senate Democrats have argued that the resolution would discriminate against gay, lesbian, and transgender citizens.
“We cannot allow blatant, hateful, discrimination to be enshrined in our constitution,” said Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur.
The filibuster has set a state record now lasting through two nights. Over the course of the all night sessions, some senators such as Senator Dan Brown, R-Rolla, have dozed off in their seat as Democratic senators spoke, and others have kept the coffee machines working overtime.
Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, began antagonizing Republican legislators at midnight with hourly quorum calls which require 18 senators being present or the senate would have to adjourn for the day which would give exhausted Democratic senators a chance to get a full night of sleep for the first time since Sunday.
However, at certain intervals in the wee hours of the morning Democrats briefly outnumbered Republicans in the chamber and could have made a motion for adjournment. Being that adjournment is taken by voice vote, the chair would have had to rule it that failed even with 3 Democrats voting in favor against 2 Republicans to avoid a several hour break for the filibustering minority.
Sens. Scott Sifton, D-Afton, and Holsman, D-Kansas City, took the Senate past midnight into 2:00 a.m. and intertwined a discussion of oldies bands and Star Wars while repeating their opposition to the resolution on legal grounds. They committed to hold the floor in shifts indefinitely.
Sens. Schupp and Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, held the floor from 2:00 to 3:00 a.m. and made a moral case against the bill, and discussed their political history and why they got into public service.
The 3:00 to 4:00 a.m. shift was held by Sen.s Nasheed and Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, and they spent the majority of their time discussing the issues surrounding the landfills in her district, last year’s SB5, while Nasheed read thank you letters from supporters of the filibuster.
At approximately 4:30 a.m., Sen. Chappelle-Nadal called for a roll call vote on her quorum call. Following that Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, took the floor and read letters of support from Missourians opposing the resolution.
On the Republican side, Senator Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, spent the entire night in the chamber with a great deal of that time in the dias along with Sens. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, and Gary Romine, R-Farmington.
However, Majority Floor Leader Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, never left the senate, answering every quorum call and being the most visible senator throughout the night. His constant presence in and around the chamber seemed to exude a confidence to the Democratic minority that he had no intention of laying the bill over.
Throughout the night several members of the House came in to watch the proceedings including Reps. Elijah Haahr, Dean Plocher, Justin Hill, John Wieman, and Mark Parkinson.
Throughout the night the opponents of the resolution dominated social media engraining the hashtag #NotInMyState on every tweet. However around midnight presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz sent a tweet in support of Senate Republicans and attacked the minority for filibustering religious liberty.
Missouri: Remember in November the Democrats who filibustered over 30 hours to fight against religious liberty. #DefendReligiousLiberty
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) March 9, 2016
As the night wore on, it was becoming clear that the record setting filibuster is on the precipice of garnering national attention, as the eyes of the world will turn to the state with the Missouri presidential primary on Tuesday. National candidates campaigning in the state will be forced to take positions on the resolution.
Just before 7:30 a.m. the Senate passed a motion to previous question, opposed by Republican Sens. Ryan Silvey, Rob Schaaf, and Bob Dixon.
Scott Faughn is the publisher of The Missouri Times, owner of the Clayton Times in Clayton, Mo; SEMO Times in Poplar Bluff, Mo.; and host of the only statewide political television show, This Week in Missouri Politics.