Minnesota Senate votes to put constitutional amendment on gay marriage before voters

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The proposal to place a question on the 2012 ballot that would alter the Minnesota Constitution to ban same-sex marriage passed the Senate on Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 38 to 27. The measure is waiting its final committee hearing in the House before that chamber votes on it. Virtually all of the testimony on the Senate floor was in opposition to the bill, which led one legislator to question whether supporters were ashamed to speak in support of it.

The bill’s author, Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said, “There’s a growing uncomfortableness with a small group of politicians in St. Paul deciding this issue and an uncomfortableness of the possibility of a small number of judges deciding this.”

He added, “This proposal is simply to give the voters an opportunity to define marriage as between one man and one woman and place that in our state constitution.”

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, asked the senators what is so different about his relationship. He spoke of his partner, Richard, and their struggles together to get by in a tough economy.

Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, tried to amend the bill to also ban divorce in the interest of protecting marriage. That measure failed.

“We heard a lot of testimony that this is important because of the sanctity and the sacrament [marriage] is. It’s good because we want stable families for children. My amendment would make marriage a for-life event. For those that do decide to get married, get married for life,” she said. “If marriage is something so important that we need it in our state constitution, then we should recognize marriages for life.”

Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, expressed concern that legislators are not taking the constitution seriously. “I’m concerned when we use the constitution to write into it elements that would discriminate against other people in our society, and I do not believe that is the purpose of the constitution. It’s not why the founding fathers created the constitution.”

She added, “Take the constitution seriously. Vote no on this amendment.”

Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, spoke of her brother who is gay and how the amendment would hurt him. She also read a number of letters from constituents who oppose the amendment.

“I believe that God created us all whether we are gay or straight,” she said, and then she cited scripture to support her statement.

“Gay people exist, and some of them kill themselves because of the shame our society puts on them,” she added. “Cruelty is wrong and compassion is holy.”

Goodwin also added some of her faith to the discussion. “Think how differently Christianity would be if Jesus asked the crowd to vote on whether or not to stone Mary Magdalene,” she said. “If people want to worry about other peoples’ relationships then I think they need to find other things to do.”

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, questioned the wisdom of asking the public to vote on other peoples’ marriages.

“My wife and I were married 30 years ago in November. We chose to marry each other. My dad, a local minister, married us,” he said. “Nobody had any vote in it except for us. Yeah, we voted 2 to 0, but nobody else had the right to vote on our marriage.”

Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, said, “I very much hope that you go out and really try to ask same-sex couples the hardships they face. I had no idea 20 years ago,” she said, noting that she’s become close friends with a lesbian couple on her block. “And because I know their reality, I cannot come here and pretend that this is a problem for them.”

She pleaded with her colleagues, “We are creating a problem for thousands of couples. Members, please don’t do this.”

Sen. John Harrington, DFL-St. Paul, spoke about how he faced marriage discrimination when he met his wife who was of a different race. When they decided which state to move to, they had to eliminate a third of the country which, at that time, still had laws criminalizing interracial marriage.

“Why are we following in that line? I really do feel that this amendment follows int that line,” he said.

Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, talked about the negative economic impact the amendment would have as talented employees would seek employment in more tolerant states. Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis remarked that discrimination should not be put to a popular vote, while Sen. Mary Jo McGuire, DFL-St. Paul, who had just won a special election, said that none of the voters she met while campaigning asked her about banning gay marriage.

And Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, asked why Republicans insisted on bringing the issue up at all.

“Gay marriage is still against the law in Minnesota,” he said. “Republicans care more about passing their divisive social agenda than creating jobs in Minnesota.”