State passes gay marriage prohibition

by Chris Vetter

A new state law signed on Monday by Gov. Arne Carlson bans gay marriages in Minnesota and denies recognition of gay marriages performed in other states.
The law, called the Defense of Marriage Act, was part of the $5 billion Health and Human Services bill signed by Carlson. Minnesota is now the 15th state to ban gay marriages.
Members of the University’s gay community said they were not surprised that DOMA became law, but are disappointed.
Beth Zemsky, the director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Program Office, said the new law accomplishes nothing because Minnesota law already recognizes marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
“I think the DOMA bill is a mean-spirited piece of legislation,” Zemsky said. “The motivation for the law was to make a statement and not a law.”
Zemsky questioned the religious reasons state legislators gave for wanting the law, saying the lawmakers should recognize the split between church and state. Some legislators who argued for the bill’s passage quoted scripture from the Bible that suggests homosexuality is against the laws of God and nature.
Bart Clement, a gay University graduate student, said he was disappointed that the bill became law.
“Any passage of a DOMA bill is a blow to the gay community,” he said.
Clement said he was particularly upset that Carlson, who has a history of vetoing spending bills that include social change provisions, passed the bill.
“I find that contradictory,” Clement said. “It is inconsistent with his past voting record.”
While Minnesota is not ready for gay marriages now, perhaps they will be in 10 years, Zemsky said. Changing perceptions people have about gay lifestyles might lead legislators to change their opinions on gay marriages in the future, she added. If not, Zemsky said she would be disappointed.
Sen. Allan Spear, DFL-Minneapolis, a gay University history professor, said he blames the Legislature for placing the amendment on a “must-pass bill.” Carlson could not have vetoed the DOMA measure without sinking the entire $5 billion bill.
Spear called the law an “unnecessary slap in the face of gays and lesbians.” He criticized the conservatives for pushing for the measure.
“I have trouble with people who claim they believe in family values and don’t want gays to have stable relationships,” Spear said.
The conservative movement to ban gay marriage might eventually help the gay movement by sparking more debate, Zemsky said. “In the long run, I’m not that upset about the DOMA thing,” Zemsky said.
The bill became an issue in 1996, when Congress passed a measure allowing states to pass DOMA bills that do not recognize gay marriages performed in other states. Both senators Rod Grams and Paul Wellstone, a traditional supporter of gay rights, supported the DOMA bill.
The state version of DOMA passed overwhelmingly in the House 112-19 and in the Senate 54-12, although five of the six University-area representatives voted against the measure.
DOMA’s passage is seen by many as political posturing by Rep. Charlie Weaver, R-Anoka, who championed the bill in the Legislature. Weaver, who successfully amended the act to the Health and Human Services bill, is the top Republican challenger for the 1998 state attorney general election. The passage of the bill could be a boost for his campaign.