Gay-marriage ban might go to ballot

Voters would decide whether to ban same-sex marriage with the state constitution.

Jim Hammerand

A Minnesota constitutional amendment defining marriage as “only a union between one man and one woman” could be voted on by Minnesotans in November if a bill makes its way through the Doh aFL-majority state Senate.

The bill proposing the amendment would define marriage in a way that would make same-sex marriage or civil unions unconstitutional. Same-sex marriage already is considered illegal in Minnesota, the result of a 1971 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling.

The bill was scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee at noon today.

Supporters of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, have said marriage laws are not strong enough to withstand a lawsuit and need strengthening against judicial activism.

Chuck Darrell, communications director for Minnesota for Marriage, a group that supports the amendment, said, “We know that marriage is under attack across the nation.”

“To say that we don’t need an amendment just completely goes against what’s happening in other states Ö the best way to protect marriage, to take it out of the hands of lawsuits and activist judges, is to amend the constitution.”

Dale Carpenter, University associate professor of law who contributes to the constitutional law blog www.volokh.com, said this fear is unjustified and goes beyond judicial activism. “We don’t have a real existing problem here: We don’t have gay marriages (in Minnesota), and we aren’t likely to get them.”

Minnesota is not known for having an activist judiciary, Carpenter said, noting that Massachusetts judges would not preside over cases in Minnesota. The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in 2004 to allow same-sex marriages, the first state to do so.

“What we’re talking about is amending the state constitution to deal with a possible future decision by an unknown judge at an unknown time in a lawsuit that has not even been filed, and if that is enough to amend the constitution, then we are going to be very busy amending the state constitution,” Carpenter said.

Still, Bachmann said she would like to see the issue debated on the floor of the Senate, not jammed up in committee for “very selfish reasons.”

“They (the DFLers) are willing to sacrifice the people’s right to vote on this issue so that they can retain, in their mind, majority in the Minnesota Senate,” Bachmann said. “They’re worried about having to face the music that’s the voters in November.”

But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley, said, “(Bachmann) just believes that her agenda should supersede everything that goes on in the Legislature, and that’s wrong. We have a process.”

Bachmann’s bill, introduced in January 2005, passed through the House quickly but stalled in the DFL-majority Senate Judiciary Committee that April. Since then, legislators have introduced eight other bills with enough minimal differences to be considered separate bills, giving the amendment push extra oomph.

Bachmann conceded the bill will have a tough time in the Senate. “I think it’s difficult because many of the Democrat members of the Senate have gone on record saying that they oppose the constitutional marriage amendment.”

If the Senate does pass the bill, the issue then would be put on the November ballot. According to a February 2005 Mason-Dixon poll of 625 Minnesota registered voters, 61 percent of voters would support such an amendment. The poll reported a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The amendment needs 50 percent of the vote plus one to become part of the constitution, and any voters who abstain from that particular measure while voting for other items would register as a vote against.

Efforts to undo the amendment by charging it as unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution most likely would be unsuccessful, Carpenter said.

Student reactions

Queer Student Cultural Center Co-Chairperson Jen Monkern said the organization invites people to sign its petition in opposition to the proposed amendment and also has organized postermaking and a trip to the Capitol. “I don’t think it’s fair to give somebody a right to vote on somebody else’s right – that’s not what our democracy was created for,” Monkern said.

University senior Jamon Miller said he thinks the amendment has been made into a religious issue. “What would Jesus say about this? Would he take the same course of action?”

Adam LeGrand, a College of Liberal Arts first-year, said, “I kind of feel like they’re trying to get attention to themselves and the party.”

Katie Myers, a geophysics and geology senior, said, “I don’t think the average student thinks it would affect them. Students don’t often take a very strong stance.”

Music therapy sophomore Heidi Hackbarth, a facilitator with the Queer Student Cultural Center, said she was worried that if enough states amend their constitutions to define marriage, it could lead to the federal constitution being amended.

“I don’t feel like I’m a threat to marriage,” she said.