MSA vote adds to list of U groups who oppose the marriage amendment

by Jenna Wilcox

Opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage in the state is spreading on the University of Minnesota campuses as students voice their disagreement.

Minnesotans will vote on the marriage amendment in November. Student government and student groups are getting involved in the conversation by saying the amendment is against the University’s mission statement.

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Student Association voted to adopt a position statement to demonstrate their opposition to the amendment, but the topic was met with some controversy.

Members of the forum raised concerns about relevance of the amendment to students and how the decision would reflect on MSA. But other members urged the group to consider the cost of staying silent, and the majority said they thought voting against the amendment would be a good idea.

Colter Heirigs pointed out that voting against the amendment was not a vote in support of gay marriage but simply a vote against an amendment banning it.

“[The amendment] goes against our basic principles in the mission statement of the University,” he said.

Zachary Flessert, a member of the Queer Student Cultural Center, said he thinks it’s weird that there is a debate going on about his life choices.

“I’ve been in a relationship for two years, and I really don’t see that relationship being political,” he said. “Every time I meet people, I either have to defend myself or they ask me my opinions on everything, and I just want to live a happy lifestyle.”

Flessert said he thinks it’s in the University’s interest to take a stance on the issue because it affects more than just students at the school.

“If it passes, there will be a big incentive to leave the state,” he said. “If the [University community] really does care about its staff and students, it would vote against the amendment.”

The Student Senate voted 23-1, with four voters abstaining, to support a resolution against the amendment at their meeting on Thursday. The meeting drew so much attention that attendance doubled.

Joshua Preston, chairman of the Student Senate, said he was “blown away” by all the support.

Non-Student Senate members also participated in the meeting and about 20 students from other University campuses tuned in through video conference.

Preston said the senate voted against the amendment because it is against everything the University stands for.

“The U of M stands for equality and tolerance, and as an academic institution, we have the responsibility to come out and say, ‘This is not a partisan issue, this is a basic human rights issue.’” he said.

Preston has also taken the issue to members of the University Senate, the Faculty Senate, the Civil Service Senate and University President Eric Kaler‘s staff.

“I think President Kaler is reluctant to take a stance on this because he thinks it might be a partisan stance, but I think if we put pressure on him, he’ll do the right thing,” Preston said.

Other University campuses also have taken a stance against the amendment.

The student government at the University’s Morris campus sent a letter opposing the amendment to the administration and the University Senate in the beginning of February.

Preston said he thinks the entire University community will stand against the amendment by the end of April.

Student groups on the Twin Cities campus are joining in the conversation as well.

The Minnesota Debate Team plans to set up debates about the amendment at the end of the month, and the University’s chapter of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group has been working to get signatures from students opposing the amendment since fall.

Kara Rud, MPIRG co-chairwoman, said the group used the opportunity to educate students about the issue.

 “I just think it’s ridiculous that we have to fight this fight in Minnesota in 2012,” Rud said. “This is something I never thought would happen here.”