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Senate committee rejects same-sex amendment
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Protesters on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue meet outside the hearing room. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Supporters of a proposed amendment that would ban gay marriage were dealt a setback on Friday when a committee in the DFL Senate defeated the proposal. The measure would allow the voters to decide if the Minnesota Constitution should ban same-sex marriage and any legal equivalent. But the committee did approve a proposed constitutional amendment that would prevent the courts from forcing the Legislature to define gay marriage, as the Massachusetts Supreme Court has done.

St. Paul, Minn. — The Senate Judiciary Committee defeated the proposed constitutional amendment that bans gay marriage on a 5-4 vote. The vote fell along party lines, with DFLers in the majority. Several DFL lawmakers said they don't want the state constitution to include discrimination.

Others, like Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, says marriage should be decided by the couple, not government.

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Image A call against same-sex marriage

"Every person in this room should have the right to make a decision on marriage -- their marriage, not my marriage. Not Linda and Bobbi's marriage or Senator Bachmann's marriage or any of our kids. We should decide for ourselves who we want to marry. It's between us and our partner and our god," Marty said.

The committee approved a proposal to amend the constitution to prevent the courts from directing or requiring the Legislature to define marriage. The bill's author, Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley, says he wants to prevent the courts from weighing in on the issue.

The same-sex issue has moved to the forefront this year largely because the Massachusetts Supreme Court has ordered lawmakers there to.

Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, says she's not happy with the proposal that did pass, but says she's pleased that she has a chance to amend her bill onto Betzold's bill when it goes to the Senate floor.

She says Betzold's proposal doesn't go far enough and could create future problems in the Legislature. "It does not define marriage, and it does not give the people the right to vote on the definition of marriage. Even worse, it puts the issue in play as a political football in the legislative arena," she said.

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Image A poster for family values?

Bachmann says she'll consider several options to force the full Senate to vote on the issue. The House passed the proposed ban earlier this week, so if it passes the Senate, the question would go on the ballot in November.

Constitutional amendment questions don't need the governor's signature. If a majority of those voting in that election vote in favor of the amendment, the state Constitution would ban gay marriage and any legal equivalent.

Supporters say the amendment is necessary to prevent the Minnesota courts from overturning the state's Defense of Marriage Act.

St. Thomas College of Law professor Theresa Collette says public officials in other parts of the country have started issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

"The courts have declared marriage to be a question of constitutional law, and the only question remains is who will determine what the constitutional law will be?" she said.

But opponents say the proposal would treat gay couples as second-class citizens. Several gay couples testified at the hearing on the issue.

Linda Smith says she and her partner, Bobbi, have lived together for 34 years. She says the two have adopted four children, attend church regularly and vote in every election.

"Were it not for the fact that my partner is a woman, we can be the poster for American family values. And yet you are being asked to put forth and amendment to protect people from us?" she said.

Smith says if the amendment is added to the Constitution, Minnesota would become "a cold Iraq," where government dictates religous rights on the public.

But others say allowing same-sex marriage would be immoral. John Thomas, the executive director of the Glorybound Family Restoration Center in Minneapolis, says the Senate is bottling up his ability to vote on the issue.

"I will do everything in my capability to battle against you. I'm a poor black man with nothing to lose. I will not go back to Jim Crow. I will have my right. I will have my say," Thomas said.

Others say it's necessary to keep marriage between a man and a woman to protect the sanctity of marriage.

That upsets several gay rights advocates. Ann DeGroot, with the gay rights organization OutFront Minnesota, says gay couples want the same legal benefits afforded to heterosexual married couples. She says a gay person cannot visit a partner in the hospital, can't access a partner's health benefits or receive a partner's retirement benefits.

"There's been a lot of talk here about protecting hetrosexual marriage. I'm still unclear what this bill, what this constitutional amendment, would do to protect marriage -- and I'm also unclear what it would protect it from," DeGroot said.

Gov. Pawlenty says he wished the original legislation had passed, but says the proposal that was approved is better than nothing.

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