DFL remains obstructionist

Minnesotans deserve the opportunity to vote on the amendment banning same-sex marriages.

The same-sex marriage debate is again gaining momentum in Minnesota. On March 31, by a vote of 77-56, the House passed a bill that would allow Minnesotans to vote on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman. The vote would take place in November 2006. Public discussion is also increasing.

Earlier this month, gay rights activists rallied at the State Capitol in opposition to the constitutional amendment, and Wednesday social conservatives will have a rally of their own on the Capitol lawn. Recent national news has also refocused attention on the issue, as the state of Kansas passed the 18th state constitutional marriage amendment April 5 and last week the Oregon Supreme Court invalidated the marriage licenses of 2,000 same-sex couples. Despite the renewed intensity of the same-sex marriage debate, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party politicians continue to obstruct and flout the will of the people of Minnesota.

While 18 other states have voted on constitutional amendments, the Minnesota Senate has yet to have substantive debate on the issue. The legislative inaction is a case of perpetual foot dragging and obstruction. The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, has still not made it out of the judiciary committee. Moreover, the chairman of the committee, Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley, has indicated he doesn’t plan on getting to the bill until sometime next year.

Further illustrative of DFL obstruction is the suspect stifling of the issue this month. Conveniently, Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, went so far as to cancel the floor session Tuesday, arguably to avoid discussion of the same-sex marriage issue, discussion Republican Party leadership was hoping to force to the table before an approaching legislative deadline. Regardless of whether the cancellation was a case of “parliamentary tricks,” as one senator put it, the liberal foot dragging on the issue is all-too reminiscent of last year when the DFL refused to even open floor debate on the issue of same-sex marriage altogether.

The DFL obstructionism wouldn’t be nearly as disturbing if the Minnesota public were not so clearly in favor of a vote and the amendment itself. According to a February Mason-Dixon poll of the state, 65 percent of Minnesotans oppose legalized same-sex marriage, 63 percent want the people of Minnesota to decide the issue, 61 percent would vote for the amendment and an amazing 49 percent said they were less likely to vote for their state senators if they opposed the amendment. The Minnesota statistics mirror the national trend. According to the most recent CNN/Gallup Poll, 68 percent of Americans are opposed to legalized same-sex marriage, the highest number to date.

Given the polling data and the fact that many state representatives report receiving more constituent correspondence about the same-sex marriage issue than any other, Minnesota constituents should be disturbed by the DFL’s perpetual inaction. Regardless of whether DFL leadership finds the issue a distraction, the state statistics, public debate and constituent support indicate that the same-sex marriage debate is much more than a political sideshow to the people of Minnesota – the same people the DFL politicians purport to represent.

To many Minnesotans and even many DFL supporters (notably, 13 DFL representatives voted for the House bill), the same-sex marriage issue is central to the future of the Minnesota family.

Regardless of where one falls on the issue, most Minnesotans agree on this: The same-sex marriage issue is a quintessential example of one that should be decided by the people. Certainly not “deeply rooted” in our state’s history or constitution and an issue that touches on the most intimate and important details of our community, same-sex marriage is an issue for public debate and representative decision-making, one for republican government in which the representatives execute the will of the people.

Unfortunately, DFL leadership appears to see the issue as one to be decided by an unelected, unaccountable and elite body of nine. Constituents have little else to conclude given the DFL’s refusal to fully debate the issue.

Notably, at the start of the legislative session, Republican leaders consciously refrained from charging the highly polarizing issue until state budget and bonding bills were completed. For that, they should be applauded.

Now it is time the DFL got in step with its constituents, rather than stalling in hopes that eventually the U.S. Supreme Court or Minnesota Supreme Court will do its bidding. It is time the State Legislature put the issue where it belongs: into the hands of the people.

Bryan Freeman welcomes comments at [email protected]