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Same-sex marriage debate returns to the Capitol
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Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, says she plans to renew her push to approve a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota. A similar measure stalled in the Senate last session. (MPR file photo)
Supporters of amending the Minnesota Constitution to ban same-sex marriage say they'll renew their push to get the measure on the ballot. They say they're energized by the passage of similar measures in other states on Election Day. But opponents of the measure say the Minnesota election results show that voters want legislators to focus on core issues, not divisive ones.

St. Paul, Minn. — On Nov. 2, voters in 11 states amended their state constitutions to define marriage as a civil contract between a man and a woman. The closest vote came in Oregon, where the measure passed with 57 percent of the vote. It passed overwhelmingly in Mississippi with 86 percent of the vote.

The sponsor of a similar measure in Minnesota, state Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, said voters made it clear that they want to define marriage.

"Clearly, this is a foundational issue that people across the country have stated at the ballot box. This is probably the most important issue that was on the voters' minds," Bachmann said.

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Bachmann's bill failed in a Senate committee last session, and supporters were unable to bring the amendment to a full floor vote. The DFL-controlled Senate wasn't on the ballot this year, but it will be in 2006. Bachmann believes it would be political suicide for Democrats to block a vote on the bill.

"If the Democrats would do this upcoming year what they did last year, and not allow even one minute of debate on this issue on the floor of the Minnesota state Senate, I believe that the people would be outraged," Bachmann said.

But some DFL legislators say voters will be outraged if same-sex marriage dominates the discussion at the Capitol. State Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, one of two openly gay legislators, said House Democrats picked up 13 seats in the election because they focused on issues such as education and transportation.

"Clearly, the voters showed that they were not interested in supporting those who were pursuing distracting issues and divisive issues and didn't want to give any more fuel to the politics of anger," Dibble said.

Dibble said the marriage amendment is not the most important issue facing the state. He said the upcoming session needs to focus on more pressing matters, such as balancing the state budget and passing a capital investment bill. Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said he doesn't know if Bachmann's bill will make it through the Senate.

Rather than amending the Constitution on these matters, we ought to deal with them by law. But it doesn't seem to be that way anymore. Various groups and interest groups line up and put the pressure forward.
- DFL Senate leader Dean Johnson

"If I had my druthers, individually, rather than amending the Constitution on these matters, we ought to deal with them statutorily and by law," Johnson said. "But it doesn't seem to be that way anymore, that various groups and interest groups line up and put the pressure forward."

One of those groups is Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage, which took out billboards during the campaign that read, "Want Gay Marriage? Vote Democrat in November." About 120 House candidates signed the group's pledge to support putting the measure on the ballot. The group's president, Jeff Davis, said supporters will continue to push the issue.

"I think people are very motivated by this issue," Davis said. "I think it's indicative of the fact that we had over 3,000 people show up for the rally at the state Capitol this spring, we've gotten over 30,000 people to sign a petition requesting that this legislation be approved here in the state of Minnesota so they have an opportunity to vote on the definition of marriage."

Groups on the other side say they, too, will keep up the pressure on lawmakers. The gay and lesbian advocacy group Outfront Minnesota said it will fight amending the state Constitution to discriminate against same-sex couples. The group's legal and policy analyst, Phil Duran, said legislators will have to decide what they want to accomplish next session.

"Is it more important to put an amendment on the ballot to inflict this kind of harm on same-sex couples and their families, or is it more important to pass bonding bills, to address issues like funding education, health care, transportation and the like?" Duran asked.

Duran noted that some of the Republican House members who supported the amendment were defeated in the election. Still, supporters in the House believe they still have the votes to pass the bill. That means the matter may, once again, be decided by the Senate, where Senate leaders are pledging to have a more civil tone next session.

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