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March 8, 2005
St. Paul, Minn. — The issue to ban gay marriage was bitterly divisive last session. Supporters of the measure held vigils and prayed regularly at the Capitol while opponents wore T-shirts saying the measure was hate-filled politics. The debate was so fierce that the Senate sponsor was cut off from speaking when she tried to bring up the bill in the final hours of session.
The bill is back this year and the rhetoric could be just as heated.
Rep. Dan Severson, R-Sauk Rapids, is sponsoring the amendment this year in the house. He believes the country will have significant moral problems if gay marriage is allowed in Minnesota.
"I believe in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. I believe that that is the cohesion that keeps our country together. Without that cohesion we become subject to a lot of areas that we don't want to go down as a people," he said.
Supporters have been pushing for the amendment since 2003. That's when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled gay marriage should be legal in that state. The Minnesota House overwhelmingly passed the amendment banning gay marriage in the 2004 session. The real test will be in the Senate, which didn't vote on the measure at all.
Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, believes that momentum is on her side this year. Bachmann, who is a candidate for Congress in Minnesota's 6th District, says voters in 13 states have passed ballot measures forbidding gay marriage in the past year. She says political pressure will force a Senate vote.
"We saw that the public has overwhelmingly stated their opinions at the ballot box. They want marriage to remain as one man and one woman. Because that dynamic of the people speaking, we believe that that's indicative of what the voice of the people in Minnesota is as well," she said.
If both the House and Senate approve, the amendment would go on the state ballot no sooner than November 2006.
And that prompts some to question why the Senate should consider the bill this session. DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson says he'd prefer to see the Senate consider constitutional amendments next session. He says Bachmann is trying to distract the public from the state's budget problems. He says lawmakers have more important things to consider this year.
"Let's get back to the bread-and-butter issues of the budget. That's why I keep talking about 'why not the budget discussion? Why not a public education discussion?' We're on to a discussion of a social agenda," Johnson said.
Johnson suggested that Senate DFLers are willing to add other constitutional amendments if Bachmann is successful. He says voters should decide the constitutionality of state gambling and if universal health care should be provided.
Other critics of the amendment say it would forbid gay couples from having legal rights that many heterosexual, married couples have.
Ann Degroot, the executive director with OutFront Minnesota, a gay rights advocacy group, says gay Minnesotans should be able to visit their partner in the hospital, receive a partner's death benefits or inherit a partner's wealth without paying taxes. Degroot says the amendment would not only deny those rights, but would allow voters to discriminate against a particular group.
"We don't put people's rights up to a vote in this state. It's not something we do. it's not something we do in this country. And that's what is wrong with it by putting somebody's humanness somebody's rights, somebody's ability to be a full citizen up for the vote by the electorate of the people," she said.
Degroot says they'll actively lobby their supporters in the Senate to keep the measure off of the ballot. But those who want to ban gay marriage say they'll also be active this year. They intend to hold a rally in April, run radio spots discussing the issue and will notify local clergy to talk about the issue.