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Senate puts off showdown vote on gay marriage ban
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Streams of people filled the Capitol lawn for an event organized by the Minnesota Family Council and some faith groups. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Several thousand people attended a rally at the Capitol on Monday in support of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Supporters of the ban say they want the Minnesota constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. While ban supporters rallied outside the Capitol, their allies in the Senate tried, but failed, to force a floor vote. Opponents of the amendment say the measure is mean spirited and would codify discrimination in the Minnesota constitution.

St. Paul, Minn. — The rally was the largest held at the state Capitol so far this legislative session. The Minnesota State Patrol estimates that 3,000 people showed up to support the constitutional amendment. Supporters of the proposed same-sex marriage ban repeatedly invoked God and prayer during their comments. Some held signs quoting biblical passages, others signs read It's really shame-sex marriage and Save traditional marriage.

"Let the people vote. Let the people vote," they chanted.

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Image Scott Cooper

Supporters say the proposal is necessary to put the issue in the state constitution to prevent the courts from overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, the state law that already forbids gay marriage in the state. The Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled that gay marriages are legal in that state.

Doug Aitken, who moved to Cohassat from Massachusetts two years ago, says lawmakers in that state are debating a constitutional amendment that might get to the ballot in 2006. He says he doesn't want to see the Minnesota courts overturn Minnesota's Defense of Marriage Act in the meantime.

"In that state, they have to wait until at least 2006 to even talk about this. Ladies and gentlemen, if you do not act now you may never have the chance to have your voice on the foundation of our civilization," he said.

The House is scheduled to vote on the proposal on Wednesday, where it's likely to pass. It will have a tougher time in the DFL-controlled Senate, where the first attempt to force a vote on it was defeated.

Sen. Michelle Bachmann, R-Stillwater, says she tried to bring the vote to the full Senate because she heard the proposal was going to be defeated in committee. The measure is scheduled for its first Senate committee hearing on Friday. Bachmann and others urged the public to put pressure on Senate DFLers who all voted against Bachmann's motion.

"This is within our grasp," she said. "This is so possible. We're not doom and gloom. This is so possible. All we're looking for are two more votes."

Officials with the Minnesota Family Council and other religious organizations handed out the names and phone numbers of the Senate DFLers to the rally crowd.

Senate Judiciary Chair Don Betzold of Fridley says Friday's hearing comes less than two weeks after the proposal was introduced. He also says Bachmann and other supporters are trying to push the bill through without public input.

"The Senate will have an opportunity to hear from the public, which we will not have if the bill is moved to the floor. I have set the ground rules. We're going to make sure we're going to have a hearing on the bill. That's the Senate process. And again, if there's an urgency, why wasn't the bill introduced earlier?" Betzold said.

If the Senate passes the proposed constitutional amendment, a question will be put on the ballot in November. Voters will then have the chance to decide if the Minnesota Constitution should include language that bans same-sex marriage or its legal equivalent. If a majority of the voters in that election vote in favor of a ban, the amendment will be added to the state constitution.

Scott Cooper, with the gay rights organization, Out Front Minnesota, says many gay couples want to be married so they can have the same legal benefits as heterosexual couples.

Cooper also noted supporters of the amendment have changed the language of their rhetoric. He says they no longer speak of banning gay marriage; instead they talk about keeping marriage between one man and one woman. He says his opponents made the switch to get more people to support the proposal.

"People agree that in their life experience and in their families, marriage has meant one man and one woman who are married and so if that's what the supporters of the constitutional amendment talk about, they find that people tend to agree with them. When they talk about amending the state constitution, they find that most Minnesotans don't agree with them," he said.

Cooper says Out Front Minnesota expects several thousand people to attend their rally in opposition to the constitutional amendment on Thursday.

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