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Republicans end Democrat-led filibuster of same-sex marriage bill in Missouri Senate

Republicans end Democrat-led filibuster of same-sex marriage bill in Missouri Senate

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JEFFERSON CITY • After more than 36 hours of non-stop debate, Republicans who control the Missouri Senate shut down a Democrat-led filibuster of a controversial same-sex marriage proposal early Wednesday.

Republicans used a parliamentary maneuver, known as the previous question, to end the blockade, which had put a national focus on a GOP-sponsored measure to shield clergy, wedding vendors and religious organizations from penalties if they oppose same-sex marriage.

The Senate then voted 23-9 to give the proposal preliminary approval. A final vote is expected Thursday before the measure moves to the House for further action. If approved by the House and Senate, the measure will be sent to the ballot for voter approval.

The record-setting marathon ended with anger from Democratic lawmakers and signs of relief from Republicans with a lack of sleep the only common ground between them.

But that decision likely will cause problems for Republicans moving forward. Last year, Republican senators used the previous question to shut down an eight hour filibuster by the Democrats and force a vote on "right to work" in the last week of session. In turn, Democrats shut down debate on everything else.

Wednesday's previous question is only the 16th time the Senate has shut down debate since 1970 and it was used with eight weeks left in session. If the Democrats use the same tactic as last year in response, it could spell trouble for everything from voter id to anti-abortion measures to the 2017 budget.

The Senate's minority party launched its stalling attempt at about 4 p.m. Monday and went non-stop until Republican leaders called for a break at about 5 a.m. Wednesday.

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said his members decided to use their numbers to end the filibuster after it became clear there would be no compromise from Democrats.

"We felt the debate was starting to meander," Richard said. "It was time to move on."

Word began spreading about the filibuster Monday night. By Tuesday afternoon, national outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Buzzfeed and the Los Angeles Times were covering the marathon.

Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders tweeted their support. State Sen. Wendy Davis of Texas — who gained notoriety after her own filibuster in 2013 — also praised the Democrats’ efforts.

Republicans said they also felt a groundswell of support to stick with the proposal from a variety of church organizations and individuals.

"Missouri is a very Christian state," Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, told reporters after the session ended.

Sen. Bob Onder, the sponsor, said the constitutional amendment is necessary so photographers, bakers and others aren’t “commandeered” into participating in same-sex marriages or receptions. The Lake Saint Louis Republican also wants to make sure churches don’t lose any tax benefits they have now if they oppose gay marriage.

If approved by voters, Democrats say it would enshrine discrimination against gays into the state constitution.

Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, said the Republican tactics to end the filibuster were "heavy handed" and could lead to more Democratic attempts to slow down debate.

"We still have a lot of time left in the session," Keaveny said.

Among GOP proposals that could become embroiled in future filibusters are a voter identification measure, abortion bills and legislation affecting labor unions, Keaveny said.

"I'm not cutting anything out," he said.

Throughout Tuesday's debate, Democrats kept the same-sex marriage bill from coming to a vote by talking about a range of topical and personal issues.

Democratic Sens. Kiki Curls of Kansas City and Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal of University City talked about relentless gun violence in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. Sens. Scott Sifton of Afton and Jason Holsman of Kansas City discussed "Star Wars" as the early morning hours of Wednesday approached.

The divide between Democrats and Republicans cut both ways.

On Onder’s proposal, Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, said his views, shaped over a lifetime, are why he supports the measure on same-sex weddings.

“My conscience is directed by a certain standard of beliefs that have not changed since I accepted those as a young adult,” Emery said.

He said he just doesn’t want a baker to be forced to violate his or her conscience.

“I’m not asking the maker of wedding cakes to do anything but make wedding cakes for those patrons who want to purchase wedding cakes,” said Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur.

“And violate their conscience?” Emery asked.

“Well, you know what, violating conscience would be forcing them to marry someone of the same sex,” Schupp said. “That would be violating their conscience.”

Richard said he "didn't have a choice" when it came to ending the debate.

"At some point in time we have to move on and do the business of the people of Missouri," Richard said.

The measure is Senate Joint Resolution 39.

--Post-Dispatch reporter Alex Stuckey contributed to this report.

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