State Sen. Steve Danner's desk was covered with reference books and legal documents that he intended to use to sway colleagues to back a bill to outlaw marital rape.

But Danner didn't have to cite a case or read a word. Without a word of debate Thursday, the Senate gave the bill first-round approval on a voice vote.The bill would repeal a law that prohibits people from being charged with raping their spouses. Missouri is one of only four states that has such an exception.

Utah's Legislature passed a ban on marital rape this year.

Danne said the law was a remnant of 17th-century common law, which regarded women as their husbands' property.

"I was prepared to try my case in the court of the Senate," said Danner, a lawyer. He had expected colleagues to bombard him with questions and offer a slew of amendments.

"Yesterday, they were all over me" during an impromptu discussion in the back of the Senate chamber, Danner said. "Somebody was afraid they'd go up and hug their wife, and if their wife was mad at them, she'd go file a charge against them."

Such arguments - that the law could be misused - have killed the bill in past years. Opponents have worried also that the bill would jam the courts.

But Danner said that had not been the case in the 46 states that have outlawed marital rape. In the past 15 years, fewer than 20 cases have been filed, he said.

The Senate must take a final vote on the bill next week; if approved, it will move to the House.

Colleen Coble, a lobbyist for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said she was optimistic that the bill would finally pass this year.

"There is no good reason to be against it," she said.

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service