Senate Judiciary Committee kills measure with party-line vote; amendment supporters say fight is not over yet
ST. PAUL The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday shot down a constitutional amendment to preserve the traditional definition of marriage in Minnesota. Amendment backers expected the setback, and said the fight’s not over.
In a last-minute twist, senators altered the proposed amendment so that it wouldn’t have asked voters to strictly ban the legal recognition of same-sex relationships. Instead, it would have prohibited judges from defining marriage in Minnesota, reserving that right for state legislators.
Though one Democrat supported that alteration, all five then proceeded to kill the amendment anyway. It was rejected 5-4, along party lines.
“The whole premise is that if we do this, gay families and gay people are somehow going to go away,” said Senator John Marty, a Democrat. “They’re not going to. They’re in my neighborhood and they’re in your neighborhood. A constitutional amendment isn’t going to stop any of these couples from falling in love, from making commitments to each other, from starting families. The only thing it would do is take away their rights.”
Amendment sponsors, who’ve failed for several years to get the measure through the Democrat-controlled Senate, said they’d keep pushing to bring it to the full Senate, where they believe votes from some rural Democrats might be enough to send it to the ballot. They say the current state law prohibiting gay marriage is vulnerable to legal challenges.
Short of that, backers say they’ll make the definition of marriage a campaign issue in legislative elections this fall, believing that most Minnesotans are on their side.
“Marriage is the cultural DNA of our society,” said Senator Michele Bachmann, a Republican and chief sponsor of the amendment. “It’s not a casual relationship. It’s one that carries benefits and responsibilities for husbands and wives. Marriage is a matter of public interest, of common concern.”
Bachmann and allies repeatedly returned to the argument that children flourish the most when raised by their biological parents, creating an obligation for government to reserve marriage for those relationships.
Though the outcome was never in much doubt, the hearing at times grew emotional, with both sides expressing their beliefs with passion. Cathy Peck, a Bemidji woman with a lesbian daughter, teared up as she described the emotional wringer she’s been through over the issue.
“It makes us even more fearful for our gay and lesbian children,” Peck said. “When you have pronouncements from authority figures, hateful letters to the editor, hate speak on the radio these people are talking about our precious child, who came out of my body, and it hurts.”
Law professors and priests offered testimony on both sides of the issue. Esera Tuaolo, a former Minnesota Vikings player who in 2002 revealed that he is gay, talked about his own family.
“I love my children with all my heart and soul,” Tuaolo said. “I love my husband with all my heart and soul.”
Also in the audience was Bachmann’s openly gay stepsister, who did not testify but later told reporters she was there to show that the issue affects all Minnesota families. The woman, Helen LaFave, brought her partner and said the two would like to have some legal recognition of their relationship.
The other side suffered no lack of outrage, either. Pastor Barb White of Light Foundational Ministries in Minneapolis said that watering down the definition of marriage could open the door to the legal sanctioning of other behavior that many find objectionable.
“We’re heading down a slippery slope, just like Sodom and Gomorrah,” White said.
Robert Johnson, a retired University of Minnesota professor, upended some assumptions about the issue with his own story. He told of how he came out as a gay man after divorcing his wife of 40 years.
But he still doesn’t believe gay marriage should be legal, saying efforts to make it so have actually set back the cause of gay rights, Johnson said. “The notion of gay marriage alienates straight people, who over the last few decades have slowly, gradually come to tolerate or perhaps even accept homosexuals,” Johnson said. “So why are straight people being alienated? Because gay marriage is just too much.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, April 07, 2006.