The Missouri Democratic Senate Filibuster Was Totally Epic (UPDATED)

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A "religious freedom" bill that would codify the right to discriminate against same-sex marriages has triggered a record-setting filibuster at the Missouri Senate. - SHUTTERSTOCK/FOTOS593
  • SHUTTERSTOCK/Fotos593
  • A "religious freedom" bill that would codify the right to discriminate against same-sex marriages has triggered a record-setting filibuster at the Missouri Senate.

Even this morning, they were still talking.

The Democratic caucus of the Missouri Senate began filibustering a controversial "religious freedom" proposal on Monday at 4 p.m. And at 6 a.m. this morning, they were still holding the floor — 38 hours, and counting.

It took a Republican procedural move called a "previous question" to cut off debate and force a vote — at 7:30 a.m. or so, 39 hours after the filibuster began. (For more on the procedure, see St. Louis Public Radio's excellent piece from 2015 that has background on just how unusual this type of action is in the state Senate.)

This appears to be a new record for the Missouri Senate; the previous "longest filibuster" in this state that's regularly cited was 30 hours, in 2003. In addition, the New York Daily News suggested that if the Senators could have gotten to 43 hours, they'd set a record for the longest filibuster in history (!). Even the famous Wendy Davis filibuster in Texas was just eleven hours.

The resolution they were attempting to block, SJR 39, would refer to Missouri voters a possible constitutional amendment spelling out clear protections for anyone opposed to same-sex marriage. In essence, it would bar the state from imposing "any penalty" on those entities — including churches, other houses of worship and individuals "with sincere religious beliefs" — who decline to officiate or otherwise participate in same-sex marriage celebrations.

As we've noted before, the resolution, by St. Charles County Republican Bob Onder, is a bit superfluous since it's already total legal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in Missouri. But who has time for logic when political points are there to be scored?

And the Democrats trying to block the bill have drawn support from a wide (and surprising) set of allies, including the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce and Dow Chemical.

Some Democratic supporters sounded downright euphoric as the night became morning. And really ... how can you blame them? With two all-nighters, they were attracting the eyes of a nation.


The Republicans called for the "previous question" after the filibuster reached 39 hours. The resolution should likely now easily pass the GOP-dominated Senate, but would still need approval from the House before going to voters.

We'll stay on this story, but in the mean time, one final thought from the House floor, courtesy of Missouri Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal (R-University City):


Update at 8:30 a.m.

The resolution has passed the Missouri Senate, by a vote of 23-9.

In a statement, the Senate's Democratic Caucus said this: "Senate Democrats attempted on numerous occasions to negotiate on the resolution; however, all serious attempts were rebuffed by the sponsor. 'We will always stand against legislation that discriminates,' said Senator Jill Schupp (D-Creve Coeur). Senate Democrats voted unanimously against the Constitutional amendment." The resolution now heads to the Missouri House.

Editor's note: This story was first published at 6:40 a.m., but updated at 7:45 a.m. to include new information and report that the filibuster had been forced to an end. It was updated a second time at 8:30 a.m. with details from the Senate vote.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com


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