Capitol mulls bill defining marriage

The bill passed the House Civil Law and Elections Committee on Friday.

Bahij Austin said he doesn’t plan on getting married anytime soon. But, he said, he would like the option.

Austin, a 2003 University alumnus, is gay. He said he might want to get married to someone of the same sex someday.

In Minnesota, it’s possible that will never happen.

A bill that would amend the state constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman passed the House Civil Law and Elections Committee on Friday. If the bill passes the Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty signs it, it would go on the 2006 election ballot for Minnesotans to decide whether the constitution should be changed.

Last year, the bill passed the House but failed to pass in the Senate.

The bill would also prohibit civil unions, domestic partnerships, group marriages and polygamy, chief author Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, said in a press conference two weeks ago.

“It’s time to do it now simply because we can,” she said.

Minnesota might follow the lead of 13 other states that have passed constitutional amendments defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.

Rep. Dan Severson, R-Sauk Rapids, chief author of the House bill, said in a press conference that keeping marriage between a man and a woman only is the “cohesion that keeps our country together.”

“Without it, we come across areas that we don’t want to go through as people,” he said.

As of the 2004 elections, 13 states voted and passed constitutional amendments about same-sex marriage. Another 17 states are pending, Bachmann said.

Before the 2004 elections, only four states had similar constitutional bans.

Although the constitutional amendment would affect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, Bachmann said, “This is not an anti-gay bill.”

Austin said he feels he should have the right to get married as anyone else.

“No matter what, I just feel like (the bill is) discrimination,” he said.

Emily Souza, co-chairwoman of the Queer Student Cultural Center, said she feels the same way.

“It’s one thing to have people discriminate you, it’s another thing to have your government discriminate you,” Souza said.

Is Minnesota changing?

Minnesota is traditionally thought of as a liberal state. But people from the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community said the bill shows the state could be changing.

Souza said that when people in Minnesota start trying to define marriage as between one man and one woman, she steps back and wonders what is happening.

“For me, it’s more baffling than anything that it’s happening here in Minnesota,” she said.

Minnesota is a place where she felt she could be herself and get along with people, Souza said.

But the bill feels like a “betrayal,” she said – especially in Minnesota.

B David Galt, director of the University Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Programs Office, said a bill like this is slowly making “GLBT Americans second-class citizens.”

“It’s hard not to see that it seems like this is a concerted effort,” he said.

In the past, Minnesota has built a reputation of recognizing the rights of the GLBT community, Galt said.

Minnesota became the eighth state to create a human rights amendment in 1993 that increased protection for GLBT people in public services and employment, Galt said.

After input from the University’s GLBT community, the Board of Regents approved domestic-partnership benefits to students and faculty members in 1993, Galt said.

A domestic partnership is the recognition of a relationship by a city or municipality, he said.

If a constitutional amendment is passed, Galt said, he is concerned about the impact it would have at the University – an institution that has worked to improve conditions for GLBT students and faculty members for the last 10 years.

“If a constitutional amendment would pass, it is unclear what that might mean to continually providing benefits,” he said.

Altering the constitution

For proponents of the bill, the heart of the issue is defining marriage. And if amending the constitution is what it takes to keep marriage sacred, some people said, they want an amendment.

Tony Richter, College Republicans chairman, said he agrees with the constitutional amendment on the state level.

“It’s not a freedom thing. People aren’t prohibited from getting married. It’s protecting that (marriage),” he said.

Christopher Cook, president of the Maranatha Christian Fellowship on campus, said he wished defining marriage didn’t have to come down to changing the constitution. It’s sad, he said, that people are even thinking about it.

But, he said, marriage was “ordained by God between one man and one woman.”

Brian Edstrom, Students for Family Values president, said he agrees.

Marriage is traditionally a contract between a man and a woman, he said.

“It’s the way it has been, and that’s the way it should be,” he said.

Fighting the bill

The bill, several people have said, discriminates against the GLBT community. They have vowed to fight it.

Chris Montana, College Democrats of Minnesota president, said the bill is “incredibly offensive.”

“It’s just a group of people who don’t like the relationship (GLBT people) are in, and they see them as unfit to raise a family,” he said.

Montana said the bill should instead work to retain families, which is the larger problem.

“Nowhere in the amendment does it bring families together. All they are talking about is discriminating,” he said.

Galt said the bill is one battle the GLBT community has fought before. This time, it might be more difficult, he said.

“We’re not gonna go sit in the corner and be quiet,” he said.

“We’re used to being challenged and not enjoying the same full benefits as other people.”

On April 7, members and supporters of the GLBT community will lobby at the State Capitol against the bill.

If the amendment is passed, Galt said, “It will be a disappointment to our (GLBT) community and for the larger Minnesota community, but I think you always have to have belief in the future.”

Montana said there will be lasting regret about the bill.

“Twenty years from now, we are going to look back and literally be ashamed,” he said.