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Fight over gay marriage roils Capitol

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) The debate over gay marriage is getting personal at the Capitol as supporters of a ban push for a vote this year and opponents play defense.

One state senator reports a phone call at home before 7 a.m. on a Sunday. Another asked Senate security for protection. The debate has also taken to the airwaves and online, with radio ads targeting specific senators and blog postings ridiculing the chief author of the gay marriage ban.

"There's people fired up about this issue on both sides," Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley, said Wednesday. "I'd like to see us try to do this in a thoughtful way."

Betzold is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and has come under fire from ban supporters who say he's blocking a vote on the issue this year. Over the weekend, the pro-ban group Citizens for Defense of Marriage ran radio ads in the Twin Cities urging people to call Betzold - and listing his home phone number.

Betzold said the first call came at 6:50 a.m. Sunday. Seventeen more calls came throughout the day, he said.

"Most of the callers didn't realize it was my home number," Betzold said. "Most of them apologized."

Jeff Davis, president of Citizens in Defense of Marriage, made no apologies for airing Betzold's home number. He said the group had only a few days to pressure Betzold to drop his opposition to a direct Senate floor vote on the issue - before Senate rules made it even more difficult to call such a vote.

"It was imperative that people have access to them over the weekend to let them know how they felt," Davis said.

The ban's Senate sponsor, Stillwater Republican Michele Bachmann, has also had a turbulent few days. According to Senate Sergeant at Arms Sven Lindquist, last week before an anti-marriage ban rally at the Capitol, Bachmann inquired about getting security protection.

Lindquist said the day of the rally, he accompanied Bachmann as she walked around the perimeter of the crowd - something he advised her not to do. Since then, pictures from the rally have appeared on several Democratic blogs, showing Bachmann as she appears to be crouching behind some bushes.

Bachmann did not immediately respond to a message from The Associated Press seeking comment. She told the Star Tribune she was sitting because she was wearing uncomfortable high-heeled shoes.

Lindquist said his office doesn't have the resources to offer permanent security to any senator.

The proposed constitutional ban would go before voters in November 2006. The basis of the tussles is a disagreement over how the Senate handles the ban, which the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed both this year and last.

Betzold has promised a Judiciary Committee hearing on the ban, but said it's not likely to happen until next year. Time isn't of the essence, Betzold said, since it can't be on the ballot until 2006 anyway.

Ban supporters argue that voters want to speak on the issue and that the ban is widely supported by Minnesotans. Betzold counters that poll numbers used by ban supporters are misleading, because they don't mention that the measure would also ban civil unions and that current Minnesota law already defines marriage as between a man and a woman.