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Family Council to run ads in districts of senators who wouldn't let gay marriage ban go to floor
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Tom Prichard, head of the Family Council, plays a radio ad during a news conference on Thursday (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
The Minnesota Family Council says it will begin running several hundred radio ads this week to put pressure on members of the Minnesota Senate to vote for a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. A Senate committee defeated the proposal last week and replaced it with a proposal that would allow only the Legislature to define marriage. The Family Council says it hopes the ads will increase public support for the amendment that would define marriage between one man and one woman.

St. Paul, Minn. — Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage and any legal equivalent. Instead, the committee approved an alternative proposal. Because those who want to ban gay marriage say they need to amend the constitution to take the issue out of the hands of activist judges, the alternative proposal would remove any judicial role in defining marriage. It says the Legislature alone would have the final say in what is or is not marriage.

But the Minnesota Family Council says the alternative amendment doesn't go far enough. The council plans to spend several thousand dollars to run ads like this one. They will target a dozen DFL senators who represent rural Minnesota.

"Recently thousands of people gathered at the state Capitol to support the Defense of Marriage Amendment, which protects marriage between one man and one woman in Minnesota. But even now, politicians are working to replace it with a sham amendment by state Sen. Don Betzold. The Betzold amendment would homosexual marriage in Minnesota without a vote of the people," according to the advertisement.

Some argue that the ad is misleading since the Minnesota Defense of Marriage Act already bans same sex marriage and there are no plans to change the law.

But the Minnesota Family Council's Tom Prichard says that could change over time. He says the Legislature needs to pass an amendment that defines marriage between a man and a woman, so the people of Minnesota can vote on it.

"We want to make the people aware and we have found and are seeing that the more people have seen about the issue the more concerned they are about it and this has energized lots of people who haven't been political before and I think it will only build," he said.

Prichard says the ads will target the Minnesota Senate since the House overwhelmingly passed the proposed gay marriage amendment last week. He says he hopes the ads will lead voters to put pressure on enough senators to force a vote on the bill the House passed.

One of the senators the Family Council is aiming at is DFL Majority Leader Dean Johnson of Willmar. But Johnson says he doubts the ad will have much impact. He says despite all the noise about gay marriage at the Capitol, he isn't hearing much about it in his district.

"I had a town meeting of 125 people in my hometown of Willmar on Saturday and the issue never came up. They wanted to talk about jobs and transportation and a local airport situation and health care costs and the normal things we talk about in town meetings," according to Johnson.

Opponents of the gay marriage ban say supporters of the amendment want to put discrimination in the Minnesota Constitution. DFL Senator Scott Dibble of Minneapolis says gay couples aren't trying to take anything away from married, heterosexual couples. Dibble, the only openly gay member of the Minnesota Senate, says gay couples want to be eligible for the same legal benefits of marriage that heterosexual couples receive, like retirement, joint property, child custody and health benefits.

He says the Minnesota Family Council is engaging in fear-mongering to get support for their proposal. Dibble says he believes that Senate DFLers will stick together on the issue and reject the constitutional amendment.

"So far I think senators have really recognized that the constitution is not a place where we take popularity votes. It's not a popularity contest. To abuse the constitution for discriminatory purposes is a very very profound thing to contemplate. Sure there will be a lot of pressure, but I also think there's a lot of support for doing the right thing," Dibble said.

Officials with the Family Council say they intend to run the ads over the next week. They say they're also planning to launch other ads and lobbying efforts to force the full Senate to vote on the measure before the Legislature adjourns in May.

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