A Minnesota lawmaker's speech against banning same-sex marriage in the state constitution has become an online hit.
A video of Rep. Steve Simon's remarks had surpassed 175,000 views on YouTube by noon on Thursday. The three-minute clip shows the St. Louis Park Democrat speaking at a Capitol hearing on Monday on the push by legislative Republicans to put the question to a statewide vote in 2012.
"How many more gay people does God have to create before we ask ourselves whether or not God actually wants them around?" Simon asked.
The four-term lawmaker and attorney, who is straight, said it was an off-the-cuff speech inspired by conversations with constituents and a discussion of the issue the night before with a close friend. He said he wasn't angling for national publicity and was trying to make a point that religious beliefs are not a good justification for banning same-sex marriage since both sides of the issue can claim the mantle of religion.
Minnesota Republicans have sought the statewide vote on a constitutional same-sex marriage ban for several years, but the push has new life this session with the GOP in control of both the state House and Senate. Same-sex marriage is already illegal under state statute, but backers say the constitutional ban is needed to guard against legal or legislative changes to the traditional definition of marriage.
Sen. Warren Limmer, a Republican from Maple Grove who sponsored the measure in the Senate, said religion has a rightful place in the debate. He said people on both sides of the issue should be able to cite their faith in speaking out on it.
"This issue attracts it more than others, on both sides," Limmer said.
House and Senate bills setting the 2012 vote have both been approved by legislative committees and are likely to get floor votes soon. Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, is a same-sex marriage supporter but cannot prevent legislators from putting constitutional amendments on the ballot.
If lawmakers put it on the ballot, voters in November 2012 would be asked whether or not they support amending the constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman only. It would become part of the constitution if a simple majority votes 'yes.'
Simon said he doubts the attention his speech is getting will keep the issue off the ballot, but that he hopes it influences voters who are wavering on the issue.
"I hope people will understand that religion can be cited on both sides of this issue and it's not a grounds for major policy decisions," Simon said.
Associated Press reporter Brian Bakst contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)