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Missouri State Senators End Marathon Filibuster Over 'Religious Freedom' Bill

The filibuster, which began 4 p.m. Monday, reached over 39 hours Wednesday morning and ended after a vote was finally called.
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A 39-hour filibuster led by Democratic legislators in Missouri ended Wednesday morning when Republicans forced a vote on a controversial measure to add more religious protections to people opposed to same-sex marriage.

The bill, known as Senate Joint Resolution 39, passed 21-11 after the GOP senators broke the filibuster using a procedural move.

The talk-a-thon on the Missouri State Capitol floor in Jefferson City — perhaps the longest continuous filibuster in the state's history — began 4 p.m. Monday. The Democrats took turns criticizing the hot-button bill.

It proposes to amend the Missouri Constitution and prohibit the state from "penalizing clergy, religious organizations, and certain individuals for their religious beliefs concerning marriage between two people of the same sex."

The Republican-controlled state Senate must vote an additional time on the measure before the MIssouri House can take it up.

The senators' efforts had been praised by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, who said they are "standing on the right side of history."

Though it doesn't list specific protected businesses, the measure comes after bakers and florists have faced legal challenges in other states for declining to provide services for same-sex weddings.

In less serious moments of the filibuster, the senators riffed on Tyler Perry movies, shoes, and Jews who eat pork, according to The New York Times. "Star Wars" trivia came up, too.

Business in the chamber was effectively halted, and highlighted the national debate over balancing civil rights and religious liberties following last year's Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Republican state Sen. Bob Onder, who sponsored the bill, said he believes the amendment "is entirely defensive, in that it prevents state and local governments from imposing penalties. It is a shield, not a sword."

But Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, said in a statement Wednesday that he's worried the pending passage of the bill could give people the legal permission to discriminate.

"This bill would enshrine discrimination in our state constitution by allowing taxpayer-funded organizations like adoption and foster care agencies and homeless shelters to refuse serving LGBT families, in addition to countless other harmful consequences," Mittman said.

Missouri's legislative session runs through mid-May, which leaves plenty of time for Resolution 39 to also move through the Republican-led House. It would then be submitted to statewide voters in either the August primary or November general election.

During the filibuster, Democrats proved to be relentless.

State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, of St. Louis, said she was taking dietary supplements for energy. State Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, a Republican, said Tuesday he has had not slept since the filibuster started — aside from a roughly 15-minute nap in the Senate chamber.

Democratic state Sen. Jason Holsman, of Kansas City, said he had not left the Capitol since Monday afternoon.

"That means I'm probably pretty rank at this point," Holsman said on the Senate floor.

The filibuster marked the longest continuous debate in recent Missouri history. Four state Senate Democrats — including current U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. — led a 38-hour filibuster spread over five legislative days against an abortion bill in 1999. That bill ultimately passed the state Senate.

Missouri's session also surpasses the longest filibuster in the U.S. Senate, when Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes to stall the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He reportedly read from historical documents to pass the time.

More recently, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz in 2013 spent 21 hours and 18 minutes filibustering from the U.S. Senate floor to oppose Obamacare. He read bedtime stories for part of it.

Cruz was among the presidential candidates weighing in on Missouri's bill to protect opponents of same-sex marriage. He tweeted early Wednesday that voters should "remember in November" what Democrats in the state were doing.