Couples file appeal in Minnesota same-sex marriage lawsuit

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The 2012 ballot isn’t the only place where a raging debate on same-sex marriage is taking place in Minnesota. Three same-sex couples filed an appeal in July in their bid to overturn Minnesota’s Defense of Marriage Act, and groups on both sides of the issue have filed paperwork with the court offering strongly worded arguments on the issue of marriage equality.

A Hennepin County district court judge dismissed a suit by the couples — Duane Gajewski and Doug Benson, Lindzi Campbell and Jesse Dykhuis, John Rittman and Tom Trisko–  in March. The judge said that until the Minnesota Supreme Court overturns Baker v. Nelson, a 1971 case that said same-sex couples cannot marry in Minnesota, “same-sex marriage will not exist in this state.”

So the couples are taking their case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals with hopes that they can get it heard before the Minnesota Supreme Court.

“The appellants challenge MN DOMA and the obstacle it poses to the appellants’ enjoyment of 515 separate laws that confer tangible benefits upon married couples and their families, and relieve the injuries the appellants face in taxation, inheritance, powers of attomey, health care, and child rearing, amongst other matters,” the court filings for the couples read.

Attorneys for the couples argue that the 1971 Baker decision doesn’t apply, arguing that the current case is about recognizing marriages performed in other states.

“Resting on its interpretation of the Book of Genesis for its holding, the Baker Court turns aside an early bid by a same-sex couple seeking to marry under Minnesota law,” court filings said. “Notwithstanding the state’s protests to the contrary, and notwithstanding the district court’s reluctance to rule contrary to Baker in spite of its stated misgivings, Baker does not determine the outcome of this case. In addressing the claims of same-sex couples lawfully married in other jurisdictions, this court may grant the appellants relief from MN DOMA, regardless of Baker.”

In a bit of a twist, the Minnesota Family Council filed a brief saying that Baker is a “decisive” case. That differs from MFC’s public statements that judges are likely to rule in favor of same-sex marriage and that a constitutional amendment barring it is necessary.

“[T[he Minnesota Supreme Court’s Baker decision is undoubtedly binding and controlling here,” MFC’s attorneys wrote. Those attorneys are from the Alliance Defense Fund, a group founded by prominent religious right groups including James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and the American Family Association, an organization that has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“The State Supreme Court in Baker squarely rejected the argument ‘that the right to marry without regard to the sex of the parties is a fundamental right of all persons’ under the federal constitution. That same conclusion… applies under the state constitution,” they wrote.

The Family Council brief also argued that lesbians, gays and bisexuals do not constitute a “suspect class” because they do not lack political powerlessness — “such individuals wield tremendous power” — and it contends that sexual orientation can change.

Finally, the group argues that same-sex couples should not be granted marriage rights because they cannot reproduce.

“Sexual relationships between opposite-sex couples have a normative procreative capacity, only those relationships provide children with their mother and father. Same-sex couples, in contrast, can neither procreate without intervention by a person of the opposite sex nor give children a home with both a mother and a father,” the brief said.

The Minnesota Atheists also filed a brief in the case, arguing that laws barring rights for same-sex couples are inherently religious in nature and should be overturned.

“These clerics and their followers are, of course, entitled to their beliefs. But, they should not be allowed to impose their theocratic views in the secular laws of this state,” the brief reads. “There is no compelling secular reason to deny civil marriage to same-sex couples; there are only religious justifications.”

The Minnesota Atheists point to hearings in May on a proposed constitutional amendment that would bar same-sex marriage where every testifier had a strong religious background and testified based on religious belief.

“This religious viewpoint, running deeply through DOMA, clashes with secular science and medicine. For example, the American Psychiatric Association “supports the legal recognition of same-sex unions and their associated legal rights, benefits, and susceptibilities, and opposes restrictions on those rights, benefits and responsibilities,” the brief said.

The group also took issue with the Minnesota Family Council’s assertion that marriage should remain between opposite-sex couples because same-sex couples cannot reproduce.

“This argument makes no sense. The state does not impose any fertility requirements on couples getting married, imposes no test whether the parties can conceive, and does not disallow marriages for women who are beyond child bearing age or men who are impotent, sterile, or have had a vasectomy.”

The timeline for the case is up to the court and could well bleed into the debate over the constitutional amendment as it gears up next year leading to the November elections.

Doug Benson, one of plaintiffs in the case, said, “Even if our opponents’ anti-gay marriage amendment is defeated by the voters in November 2012, our law suit will still be needed to get rid of the current Minnesota DOMA statute from 1997. We will continue to carefully move our case forward in the courts, using every argument and resource at our disposal to overturn the statutory ban on same-sex marriage.”

But the lawyers for the Minnesota Family Council warn that if the case is successful, gay marriage will be forced on everyone.

“No provision of the Minnesota Constitution gives individuals the right to redefine marriage and force that definition on everyone else,” the ADF’s Jim Campbell said in a statement.