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At Capitol, opponents of gay marriage take their rally turn
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Supporters of the constitutional ban directed much of their ire at the DFL-controlled Senate, which for the last two years has denied floor votes on the issue even as it's passed twice in the Republican-controlled House. (MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)
Thousands of Minnesotans opposed to same-sex marriage converged on the state Capitol lawn on Wednesday, calling on lawmakers to put a proposed constitutional ban on the 2006 ballot. The rally came two weeks after a similar number of gay-rights advocates gathered to oppose the measure.

St. Paul, Minn. — The debate over same-sex marriage has divided lawmakers for more than a year now as supporters of a constitutional prohibition have sought to bring the issue directly to Minnesota voters. The House, with a GOP majority, has twice approved a ballot question, but it remains stalled in the Senate, where the DFL holds the upper hand.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who supports the proposed constitutional ban, spoke at the Capitol rally. He told the crowd he couldn't understand why some Democratic leaders have referred to the issue as a distraction from other state business.

"Mosquitoes, when you're trying to get to sleep, are a distraction. Somebody's cell phone ringing in a restaurant when you want to have a conversation is a distraction. Marriage between a man and a woman and protecting that is not a distraction. It's important," he said.

The proposed amendment would restrict marriage for relationships between one man and one woman. It also prohibits gay and lesbian couples from seeking legal equivalents to marriage, a phrase that could block civil unions or other domestic arrangements.

Opponents of a constitutional ban argue that in 1997 Minnesota passed a "Defense of Marriage Act," otherwise known as a DOMA law, that makes further restrictions unnecessary.

But Sen. Warren Limmer, R- Maple Grove, says experiences in other states show that only a constitutional amendment can settle the issue once and for all.

"How do we explain seven states in our nation that have had aggressive, activist judges rip the DOMA laws out of state statute books? There is no protection there. And there is no protection in Minnesota unless we have a vote," Limmer said.

Other rally participants share that concern. Vickie Froehlich of Kenyon says judges in other states who've struck down same-sex marriage bans should be impeached. And she echoed the sentiments of several religious leaders who spoke at the event.

"I don't know that it would personally weaken my personal marriage, but it would weaken America. We need God's blessing on our country, and God has ordained marriage. It all comes down to God," she said.

Froehlich and others directed their complaints mainly to DFL senators, who they argue have bottled up the proposed amendment despite polls showing a majority of Minnesotans oppose same-sex marriages.

But Sen. Don Betzold says many of the charges are off-base. The Fridley Democrat chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue. Betzold says he's promised to give the amendment a hearing, but that there's no rush to do so this year since the earliest it could appear on the ballot is November 2006.

"They're going out of their way to misrepresent my position," he says. "They're firing people up with rhetoric which, frankly, isn't true. They're making it sound like the bill will not be heard. And it will be heard."

A handful of counter-demonstrators also appeared at the rally, including Dan Albertson of Wayzata. Albertson says he'd like to see gay and lesbian couples given the same options that straight couples have. But he says he's afraid Minnesota will ultimately go the way of more than a dozen other states that have constitutional exclusions on gay marriage.

"They want to change the constitution to include hate. And it is hate. It is directly writing out a minority from the Constitution that protects us," according to Albertson.

Despite the intensity of feeling on both sides, the issue isn't likely to move forward this year. Earlier this month, supporters of the ban attempted to force an immediate Senate debate on whether to put the issue on the ballot. That move was easily defeated.

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