When University senior Emily Souza went knocking door to door last week to lobby against a federal ban on gay marriage, she had no idea she would end up knocking on Republican Sen. Norm Coleman’s door.
“One of his relatives answered the door and gave me a lecture on how gay people don’t deserve to marry,” she said.
Lawmakers and community members have debated the issue of gay marriage locally and nationally during the last few months.
Last week, the U.S. Senate rejected a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman.
Local politicians battled over whether to put a similar amendment in the state constitution, which the House passed and the Senate refused to vote on.
As presidential candidates adopt stances on the issue, gay marriage has become one of the campaign season’s most controversial issues.
For Souza, co-chairwoman of the Queer Student Cultural Center, banning gay marriage is about discrimination. But for supporters of the ban, it’s about preventing state Supreme Courts from redefining marriage to include same-sex couples.
Coleman and other Republican senators who voted for the amendment in the U.S. Senate vowed to continue the fight against gay marriage.
“Let me be clear: this is about preserving the meaning of a sacred and ancient institution. It is not about discriminating against any segment of our society,” Coleman said in a statement on his Web site.
Minnesota’s other senator, Democrat Mark Dayton, spoke against the amendment on the Senate floor. He called the amendment discriminatory and said it overstepped the government’s boundaries.
“It would be the first constitutional amendment to create inequality rather than to expand equality,” Dayton said in a statement on his Web site.
The issue was brought forth in the Senate because President George W. Bush supports the ban on gay marriage and needs this issue to turn out his conservative base in the election, said Larry Jacobs, University political science professor and political analyst.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., Bush’s Democratic opponent, has taken a position more geared toward his democratic base, which supports civil unions but isn’t thrilled about gay marriage, Jacobs said.
“Most Democrats and Republicans feel so strongly about this issue that they just about cancel each other out,” Jacobs said.
He said it is the moderate swing voters who will decide the presidential election.
“Gay marriage does not play well with swing voters,” Jacobs said. “Swing voters tend to be more moderate than Bush’s conservative bases, so it’s a bit disadvantageous for him.”
On the state level, Republican politicians said they would try to reintroduce the amendment, either in a special session or in 2006.
Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, was one of the amendment’s most adamant supporters.
She said the definition of marriage should be dealt with at the state and federal levels to prevent judges from changing the law. In 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples had the right to marry in that state.
“People want to regain sovereignty over the issue, they should be the ones to define marriage,” she said.
Bachmann said this issue could be a deciding factor in the election because the public believes marriage is sacred.
“If the public disagrees with same-sex marriage, it’s not because we’re bigots and hateful,” she said. “It’s because it’s our opinion that marriage should be defined as one man, one woman.”
But Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said she can’t comprehend the arguments against gay marriage.
“I absolutely don’t think it’s valid,” she said. “It’s just being done for political reasons.”
She said she has a Republican friend who just got married for the fourth time.
“And I want to ask him, which one of your four marriages are you voraciously defending?” Kahn said.
She said Bachmann’s argument that marriage should be one man and one woman is just as discriminatory as outlawing interracial marriages in the 1960s.
There are no statistics to prove that gay marriage hurts children or families, Kahn said.
“I want to ask them, ‘why do you feel your marriage is so threatened by this?'” Kahn said. “I don’t feel my marriage needs defending.”
Minnesota Family Council President Tom Prichard disagreed, and said the federal government needs to define marriage to keep judges from re-defining it.
“Marriage is absolutely essential, it would destroy marriage if you redefined it,” he said. “It’s not at all discriminatory because anybody can marry, they just can’t marry those of the same sex.”
But Souza said she can only view the amendment as discriminatory.
“This constitution should never be used to prevent equal rights,” she said.
Although Souza said she thinks gay marriage will not be a main issue in the election, conservative gay lesbian bisexual transgender students are turning away from Bush because of his stance against it.
Tony Richter, vice-chairman of the College Republicans at the University, said he does not see gay marriage as a divisive issue for students.
He said other issues, such as the economy and Iraq war, will determine who gets the student vote.
Although he supports the federal amendment, Richter said he would rather see it addressed at the state level.
“I don’t feel federal legislation is appropriate because it’s not granted in the Constitution,” he said.
Austin Miller, president of the U-DFL, said he doesn’t think a ban is appropriate at any level of government.
“Republicans are pushing a radical social agenda, and it’s prevented government from getting anything effective done,” he said.