There is no state law that prohibits discrimination against gays and lesbians. A person can be fired from a job, evicted from an apartment or thrown out of a restaurant for being gay or being perceived to be gay.
Advocates have tried to convince lawmakers to change that for more than a decade, but to no avail. Now a group has decided to bypass the legislature altogether.
They hope to put the issue directly before voters in 2014.
And they're not alone.
The ballot initiative process has become an increasingly popular method for groups trying to advance issues that have failed to get legislative traction. In 2004, only 16 citizen petitions were submitted to the secretary of state's office. In 2012, that figure grew to 143.
But the road from submitting a petition to getting on the ballot is long and expensive, winnowing the wide range of ideas to just a select few. Only two of the 143 petitions submitted actually went before voters last month.
"Anyone who thinks that it's easy to get things on a statewide ballot has obviously never gone through the process themselves," said Travis Brown, a lobbyist who has worked on numerous ballot initiative campaigns over the years.
Sean Soendker Nicholson, executive director of the liberal organization Progress Missouri, said those hoping to work around legislative roadblocks will find just as many obstacles in the initiative process.
"Almost every initiative petition is subject to a legal fight, which is part of the strategy," he said. "It's about delays and extracting resources from the opposition, and it makes it even more difficult than it is supposed to be to get on the ballot."
Nicholson's organization was involved in two high-profile initiative petitions this year, one aimed at stiffening regulations on payday lenders, the other increasing Missouri's minimum wage.
Despite clearing multiple procedural and legal hurdles, including a trip to the state Supreme Court, the campaigns ultimately fell short of the required number of signatures needed to put the matter before voters.
Facing well-financed opposition from payday lending companies, the groups supporting the measure eventually threw in the towel.
But with Republicans holding super majorities in both the state House and Senate, and little hope of winning a legislative victory, Nicholson said he expects another attempt on both measures in 2014.
Even Missouri House Democrats are getting into the act, promising to turn to the ballot to reinstate campaign contribution limits if the legislature proves unable to do it.
"If the majority party does not want to address this issue, we're going to look at going to an initiative process and take it to a vote of the people," said House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, a St. Louis Democrat.
It's not just those on the left that see the ballot as the best way to move their issues forward. No discussion of ballot initiatives can leave out retired financier Rex Sinquefield.
This year Sinquefield helped bankroll a successful ballot measure ending state control of the St. Louis Police Department, and in 2010 he spent $11.2 million to force votes on the Kansas City and St. Louis earnings taxes.
Over the years he's spent millions on a so-far unsuccessful ballot proposal to replace the state's income tax with a modified sales tax, and he recently told the Wall Street Journal that he plans to finance an effort to abolish teacher tenure in 2014.
Brown, who lobbies for Sinquefield and has worked on his ballot initiative campaigns, said that while there may be a spike in the number of petitions submitted, few ever make it to the voters.
"Any one person can file a ballot initiative petition, but that doesn't imply they have a well-funded or well-strategized campaign to send it to the people," Brown said. "Sometimes people want to get an idea out. Sometimes they are trying to make a point locally. Sometimes they are just naïve to how complicated the process is."
Aaron Malin knows how daunting the process is, but he hopes to beat the odds.
Malin is executive director of Missourians for Equality. His organization has submitted a proposed ballot measure to the Secretary of State's office that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in the Missouri Human Rights Act.
Currently, people are protected from discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender and age, among other categories.
"We just went through an election that saw very conservative majorities elected in the legislature," Malin said. "I certainly don't want to frame this as a political issue, because to us it's a human rights issue. But we think the legislature is far more conservative on this issue than the populace as a whole."
Not everyone is convinced that turning to the statewide ballot is a wise move, though, including one organization that has been at the forefront of the legislative fight for change in the state's discrimination laws.
"Even though we have seen great movements in other states on marriage (equality), we do not believe Missouri, a predominately red state, is capable of passing nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity by ballot initiative," said Stephanie Perkins, deputy directory of PROMO, the state's largest LGBT-advocacy organization.
PROMO has focused its efforts over the years on lobbying lawmakers and getting local governments to amend their anti-discrimination laws. So far, ordinances have been passed in 12 municipalities, including Kansas City and Jackson County.
Even a measure that isn't particularly controversial and isn't facing fierce opposition could end up costing millions, Brown said, pointing to the St. Louis police measure passed last month that cost supporters $2 million.
Missourians for Equality reported only $1,300 cash on hand in its October campaign finance report. Malin said the group has since hired a fundraiser.
"We wouldn't be moving forward unless we thought we would be successful," he said.
If its submitted petition is approved for circulation by the secretary of state's office, Missourians for Equality must get signatures from registered voters equal to 5 percent of the votes cast in the 2012 governor's election, or roughly 150,000 signatures.