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Missouri Democrats Aren't Acting Very Democratic

Maria Chappelle Nadal
Preventing a vote on whether or not to allow a vote: that is how you do obstructionism

Monday night, Democrats in the Missouri State Senate began a marathon filibuster (that ended Wednesday morning, with the measure passing predictably) to postpone the vote on SJR-39, a joint resolution that would put on this fall's ballot a potential constitutional amendment "that the state shall not impose a penalty on a religious organization on the basis that the organization believes or acts in accordance with a sincere religious belief concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex." While this resolution is titled and publicized as a "religious freedom bill," practically every news outlet reporting on it is refering to it as "anti-gay marriage."

At a surface level of understanding, it's easy to applaud these Senate Democrats for their principled defense of gay rights. Indeed, as one who unashamedly believes the U.S. Supreme Court got it right last year in striking down any law that forbids same-sex marriage, I might be inclined to side with them in this case. Sure, it's a lost cause filibuster--which has been all the rage in recent years on both sides of the aisle, with the likes of Wendy Davis, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz very publicly resorting to the same tactic--but at least it's a filibuster in the proper sense of the word, instead of just a procedural roadblock. However, I'm not sure what, exactly, the Democrats are hoping to accomplish.

Ted Cruz
Granted, I don't see how reading Green Eggs and Ham on the floor of the U.S. Senate is all that helpful

They're blocking a vote on a resolution that will take this matter to the people of Missouri. Do Senate Democrats have so little faith in democracy? If they believe they are in the right here, why don't they think the public will agree with them? Perhaps they just want to get the word out, get some publicity so that voters can make a more informed decision.

Fair enough. With that in mind, let's look at this proposed constitutional amendment in more detail. Basically, all it's trying to do is prevent the state from leveling penalties--financial or otherwise--on "religious institutions" that decline to participate in a same-sex marriage. You can definitely make the case that "religious institutions" is too vaguely defined, but even taking that into account, I cannot see what is so harmful here. Indeed, it seems like a rational response to the ridiculous sums of money the now-infamous Colorado bakery was forced to pay for merely declining to bake a cake (although clearly, bakeries wouldn't fall under the heading of "religious institutions" by any reasonable definition).

Protest in Ferguson
Why don't you ask the people of Ferguson what they think of giving government more authority over their lives?

No, I don't think people should discriminate against same-sex marriages, but that doesn't mean I want the government to swoop in and punish those who peacefully disagree. The jackbooted heel of government enforcement shouldn't be used as a tool of social justice. That's how freedom is lost. And people shouldn't be punished for following the directions of a controversial moral compass, as long as they do not point towards demonstrable, direct harm to others. I do not believe refusing to offer your voluntary services qualifies as direct harm, because if so, all the shoeless, shirtless masses would be suing every gas station in America.

When did "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" become "I may disagree with what you say, which is why the government should be allowed to punish you for acting counter to my beliefs"?

To be clear, social change is happening, and gay rights are advancing, without the help of punishments by the state for non-compliance. Social justice means that society, in general, is responsible for rewarding those who advance equality and humanism and shunning those who fail to get on board with the future. Boycotts, public outcry, and reasoned argument are far better for creating lasting change than fining and exiling those who disagree with you.

Founding Father Facepalm
I've never asked what the founding fathers would think if they were alive today, because I already know the answer

Confusingly, the very fact that such unassisted tactics have worked in Indiana after it passed a similar religious freedom law is used by Missouri Democrats to argue that government enforcement is necessary. Those who choose to discriminate in Indiana are learning the hard lesson that, when you voluntarily shrink the size of your clientelle, you lose both money and support. That is how social justice is supposed to work in a free and open society, where people feel the natural consequences of their choices instead of the strong arm of government demanding they adhere to certain attitudes. Don't blame the law for the economic and social damages wrought by bigots; blame the bigots.

And just so we're clear, SJR-39 goes out of its way to reinforce anti-discrimination laws already on the books, by ensuring that no hospital or health care facility may refuse services to people based on their marriages, that no state agency can refuse to issue same-sex marriage licences, and more. The idea that this resolution will somehow enshrine disrimination in the law is patently absurd. If it's enshrining anything, it is the principle that government should stay out of people's personal business, and I'm happy to agree to that.

So congratulations, Senate Democrats of Missouri. You've brought this to my attention, got me to read and ponder the proposed amendment, and potentially changed my vote in the fall. Instead of going with my gut reaction as I probably would have in the voting booth, I will now make an informed choice to support the amendment.

-e. magill 3/9/2016

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