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House approves bill for gay marriage amendment
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Dozens of people camped out in front of television monitors in the Capitol to watch the House floor debate. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
The Minnesota House has voted in favor of letting voters decide whether the Minnesota Constitution should be changed to ban same sex marriage. After a relatively short but somewhat emotional debate, the House voted 88-42 in favor of the proposed constitutional amendment. Supporters say the measure is needed to ensure that marriage remains between one man and one woman. Opponents, however, say the proposal is divisive and is divert attention from the state's real problems.

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Image Another motive?

St. Paul, Minn. — The debate lasted less than two hours, even though many expected it to go well into the night. Opponents say they knew they didn't have the votes and didn't want to drag the debate into the evening.

Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, who voted with the majority, says a change in the constitution is needed so gay couples married in another state can't challenge Minnesota's Defense of Marriage Act in the courts. She noted several communities throughout the country have started issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. She says Minnesota voters, not the courts, should decide the issue here. "The founders of our country and our state allowed a process realizing that their would be issues that would come before the state and the country that the voters would want to have a say in. Members, if there is any issue that is not more important that defining marriage in our state and country, I can't think of it," she said.

Opponents of the ban say there are plenty of more important issues. Rep. Nora Slawik, DFL-Maplewood, says Republicans are using the issue to divert public attention from a poor economy, rising health care costs and last year's budget cuts. She says the issue is an attempt to put discrimination in the state's constitution.

"This bill has caused more controversy and more heartache in the halls of the Capitol than we have seen in a long time. Is this is a bill about marriage and love or hate and religion?" she said.

There was no constitutional amendment proposed when Britney Spears was married for all of 12 hours... Government doesn't protect marriages. Family protects marriages.
- Rep. Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul

Some lawmakers argue that religion and morality play a big role in their decision. Republican Mark Olson of Big Lake says he believes the nation's foundation will be destroyed if gay marriages are allowed.

"I regret that our society has come to the place where it has to be here. I hope there is a cry among a majority of people of this state to God himself that reflects humility and repentance so that this body as well as the Senate will act to heal our land," he said.

DFL Representative Karen Clark of Minneapolis says she's disappointed that the House would pass the proposal. Clark, the only openly gay member in the House, says gay couples want to get married so they can receive the same legal benefits as heterosexual couples, like health insurance or retirement benefits.

"I believe having such civil rights would strengthen all of our families, straight and gay, married and single person headed families. All of the many kinds of families that make up our diverse communities. If you believe in marriage, you should want civil marriage that promotes stable lasting relationships between same-sex partners," Clark said. Others, like House Minority Leader Matt Entenza says government shouldn't have a role in the matter.

"There was no constitutional amendment proposed when Britney Spears was married for all of 12 hours. There was no constitutional amendment proposed when Elizabeth Taylor was married 8 times, I lose track. Government doesn't protect marriages. Family protects marriages," Entenza said. During the debate, dozens of supporters of the amendment gathered outside of the House chambers to watch the debate on television. Many were loud and supportive when the three Republicans spoke in favor of the amendment.

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Image What's next?

If the amendment passes the Senate, people like 18-year-old David Eckert of Mendota Heights, will have the chance to vote on the issue in November. If a majority of those voting in that election vote in favor of the amendment, the constitution will be changed to ban gay marriage and any legal equivalent, such as civil unions.

Eckert, who was holding a sign that read What's next? Stop gay marriage, says he wants to vote on the issue to ensure that only one man and one woman can marry.

"If we don't draw a line somewhere, it only leaves us open to continuously trying different cases for people who want to marry," he said.

The issue will likely be brought up this morning in the Minnesota Senate, where passage will be much tougher. The bill's author says she doesn't have the votes to pass the bill out of committee on Friday so she wants to force a full vote on the Senate floor. Senate DFL leaders blocked a similar attempt earlier in the week. They say they want to give the public a chance to testify on it.

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