Marriage amendment passes Senate committee

Sponsors say the public has a right to define marriage in the state Constitution.

Michael Zittlow

A bill that would allow voters to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage in 2012 passed a state Senate committee Friday and is set to go before a House panel Monday.
While gay marriage is already illegal in Minnesota through two state statutes, the bill would allow Minnesotans to decide on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Because the bill concerns a vote for a constitutional amendment, it can bypass the desk of Gov. Mark Dayton, who has said he doesnâÄôt support the measure.
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, the chief author of the bill, said the public should have a right to vote on the definition of marriage.
âÄúI canâÄôt imagine anything more unconstitutional than for a small group of legislators, or even a small group of justicesâÄù to decide on the issue for the public, Limmer said.
DFLers and opponents of the bill said it allowed the Republican majority to distract the public from its budget work with a hot-button social issue. Dayton told Republicans he wants their budget proposals passed through conference committees by Friday.
âÄúMinnesotans expect us to complete our work on time and to reach a fair compromise with the governor,âÄù Senate minority leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said. âÄúThis simply wonâÄôt be possible unless Republican leaders set aside their social agenda and put 100 percent of their time and effort into fixing the hole in their budget.âÄù
Limmer said itâÄôs the role of the Legislature to take up an assortment of issues, including both the budget and policy.
On Friday, the Senate committee heard impassioned testimony from both sides of the issue, including religious leaders and gay rights activists.
Bill supporters said preventing same-sex marriage protects children.
There are societal benefits for children to have a male and female parent, said Jennifer Roback Morse, president of the Ruth Institute, an organization focused on preventing gay marriage.
But David Patton, a University of Minnesota law student who was raised by gay parents, took issue with statements surrounding children of same-sex couples.
âÄúAs a man who was raised by two men, IâÄôm here to tell you that weâÄôre doing just fine,âÄù Patton said.
Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said because marriage isnâÄôt defined as a right in the state or federal Constitution, the public should be able to define it.
âÄúThe question is simple: How are we, through the civil government, going to define marriage?âÄù Thompson said.
DFL critics said putting the measure to be on the 2012 ballot would allow a majority vote to restrict rights on a minority on the basis of religious belief.
âÄúWe donâÄôt put rights up for a vote,âÄù Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said. âÄúThatâÄôs the point of our Constitution âÄî to promote our rights.âÄù
The Senate bill was referred to the Rules and Administration Committee. The House Civil Law Committee will hold a hearing on the bill Monday.