Minnesota voters might get a chance next year to decide whether to ban same-sex marriages.
Republicans in the Minnesota House and Senate announced a bill Tuesday that would put the issue on the statewide ballot in 2012 as a proposed constitutional amendment.
The proposed amendment would define marriage as between one man and one woman. Republicans have tried unsuccessfully in the past to get a similar measure on the ballot, but now they have majorities in the House and Senate. Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said a constitutional amendment will let voters decide the issue.
"Allowing a number of politicians or, heaven forbid, activist judges to define marriage to us would simply not be acceptable," Limmer said. "We propose an early passage of it this year in our earlier biennium, and then allow the public over a year, almost a year and a half, to have a statewide community discussion about what marriage should be."
Limmer said public opinion polls have regularly shown that most Minnesotans want a chance to weigh in on this issue. But he also acknowledged a ballot measure always comes with some political risk.
First-term Republican Sen. Paul Gazelka of Brainerd, who unseated an openly gay incumbent last year, said he thinks most of his constituents want a chance to vote.
"I think people want gays and lesbians to live however they choose, but they do not want to redefine marriage," Gazelka said. "So it was something certainly I talked about up there, that marriage should be defined as between a man and a women, and I think that reflects the rest of the state as well."
Republicans can put a constitutional amendment on the ballot without the governor's signature. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton hasn't seen the specific legislation, but he told reporters how he felt about the effort.
"I strongly oppose a constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex marriage," Dayton said. "It already exists in existing state law, and I think to bind future generations from making their own reasoned decisions about what is appropriate is a big mistake."
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, accused Republicans of using the divisive same-sex marriage issue as a way to divert attention from their incomplete budget proposal. Bakk, who will try to win back control of the Minnesota Senate next year, said he thinks a constitutional amendment could be helpful.
"Any time you have high-profile constitutional amendments that get a lot of money spent on them it will drive turnout," Bakk said. "It will drive turnout on both sides of the issue. And generally, if you look at the history of Minnesota elections, the higher the turnout is in Minnesota, the better Democrats do."
The proposed constitutional amendment will get quick consideration during the final month of the session. The House and Senate authors said they expect initial committee hearings later this week. Floor votes could come anytime before the scheduled adjournment of May 23.