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St. Paul, Minn. — About 3,000 people gathered in front of the Capitol to voice their opposition to the bill that passed the House, chanting slogans like, "Separate church and state!"
The bill would ask voters to amend the state Constitution to define marriage as a union only between a man and a woman. Explorer Ann Bancroft told the crowd that the measure would write discrimination into the Constitution.
"Whatever your views are on same-sex marriage, using the Constitution to permanently treat one group of people differently -- to discriminate, in sense -- is just plain wrong," Bancroft says.
Bancroft says she and her partner don't receive many of the benefits available to opposite-sex married couples. That's why Kathy Tenbroeke came to the Capitol, along with her sister and her two nieces. Tenbroeke says she and her partner want the legal protections of marriage.
"We had a wedding three years ago, actually. Of course, it's not officially recognized by the state -- but in our hearts we're married," says Tenbroeke. "In the hearts of our family and friends we are married as well. And some day we hope to be legally married."
One speaker told the crowd that same-sex marriage is inevitable. But it's not legal in Minnesota now, and some lawmakers say they're reluctant to amend the state Constitution when same-sex marriage is already prohibited by law.
Supporters of the measure say they're concerned about legal challenges in Minnesota, and they want voters to decide the issue rather than the courts. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, says she doesn't think defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman is discriminatory.
"That's never been found to be -- in the history of man -- that marriage between mother and father is discrimination," says Bachmann. "That's been found to be, if anything, the best place to raise children and to grow a family."
Bachmann says recent polls show a majority of Americans oppose same-sex marriage. But she's not optimistic about her bill's chances in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The chair of the committee, Sen. Betzold, DFL-Fridley, has introduced a competing bill that he says addresses Bachmann's concerns. Betzold's bill would ask voters to amend the Constitution to state that only the Legislature has the power to define marriage, not the courts. Betzold says if supporters' concerns are truly about activist judges, his bill should be sufficient.
"Senator Bachmann is saying that it's all about judicial activism, it is not about gay rights," says Betzold. "But the undercurrent, the secondary argument, is entirely about gay rights. I mean, I do get e-mails talking about, 'I'm sick and tired of judicial activists,' and they go on to bash gays."
Bachmann says Betzold's bill doesn't allow voters to decide the definition of marriage. She says even if Betzold's committee kills her bill, the issue isn't over for the session.
"This debate will continue on until the gavel falls on May 17. That's really our ticking time bomb, is May 17."
Bachmann hasn't said how she might get her bill to the floor after the committee deadline. But controversial bills have been revived after committee deadlines in the past. One way might be to try to attach it to another constitutional amendment bill.
Many legislators say Bachmann's proposal will also be a campaign issue this fall. DFLers Karen Clark and Scott Dibble, the two openly gay members of the Legislature, told the rally that opponents of the ban should take their views to the polls. Clark pointed out that all 134 House seats are on the ballot in November.
"Our lives are at stake, and those legislators need to know. They need to know your names, your faces, that you vote, and that you'll help them drop literature and that you'll contribute to their campaigns -- and in some cases you won't do any of that, because they're not with you," Clark says.
Clark says some House members voted for the constitutional amendment because they were scared of the political fallout. Of those who supported the House measure, 78 were Republicans and 10 were Democrats. Supporters say they think they could get Democrats to vote for it in the Senate as well -- if they can get the bill to the floor.