GOP steps up efforts for constitutional amendment on marriage

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A screenshot of a CD program created by the Minnesota Republican Party in support of a constitutional amendment recognizing marriage as between one man and one woman.
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The GOP-produced video showcases four of the top Republican elected officials in Minnesota government. They tell the viewer why they think voters should get to decide if the Minnesota constitution should define marriage as between one man and one woman.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, Auditor Pat Anderson and House Speaker Steve Sviggum are each presented by themselves in an office. The Minnesota state flag and other important symbols of government surround them. They take turns talking about family values, and the danger of "activist judges." They also complain about DFLers holding up the vote in the Minnesota Senate, which the Democrats control.

GOP Chair Ron Carey
Minnesota GOP Chair Ron Carey wants DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson put the question to a floor vote on the first day of the session.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

At some points the speakers, including Pawlenty ask for a donation.

"The Minnesota Republican Party is one of the groups that's going to be encouraging legislators to pass this bill. They need your help, so we hope that you'll consider helping them with your volunteer time and also making a financial contribution to the Minnesota Republican Party," Pawlenty says.

Minnesota already has a law on the books that bans same-sex marriage, but some worry the Minnesota courts could overturn the law. The matter became an issue in 2003 when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overturned a state law and allowed same-sex marriage in that state.

Minnesota Republican Party Chair Ron Carey says the party is using the video with the hopes that voters will urge certain DFL senators to vote in favor of the measure. He repeatedly said polling shows Minnesotans favor the Republicans on this issue.

"The Democrats want to pick and choose what issues they want to discuss. The problem is when you're trying to govern the state, you have to govern on all issues, not just the ones you choose to have. They call these 'wedge issues' because they're on the wrong side of the Minnesota voter," Carey said.

Carey says they want DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson put the question to a floor vote on the first day of the session. The measure passed the House but the full Senate has not voted on it. Attempts to bring it up for a floor vote failed.

If the measure passes the House and Senate, a question would be put on the November ballot. If a majority of the people voting in that election approve the amendment, it would effectively ban gay marriage and civil unions.

Sen. Johnson was not available to comment because he's out of the state. He said last week, however, that Republicans are using this as a political wedge issue.

"It's a fear factor," he said. "It's divide and conquer. Our job as legislators is to bring people together to bring this state together. Last year we beat up on the indians then we beat up on the gays. When are we going to get this administration to bring us together in our commonalities?"

Johnson says he'll let the proposal work its way through the political process and they will hold a committee hearing on the proposal.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, is one of the targets of the GOP campaign. Langseth says he doesn't support same-sex marriage. He says he won't vote for the amendment because he believes the state's Defense of Marriage Act protects the state. He doesn't think the courts will overturn the law if someone challenged it. Langseth says he's not too worried about the political pressure.

"I'm not going to do something just because these people are making all of these threats against me. I've been here 30 years and I've never yielded to a threat yet and they keep sending me back. My people don't want me to crumble when I'm under pressure; they want me to do what I think it right," he said.

Langseth says he intends to campaign on other issues like education, health care and transportation. He says two DFLers picked up Senate seats in recent special elections because they talked about those issues. Both say they don't support the proposed amendment.

The Minnesota Republican Party will also have work on some of its own members in the Senate. Sen. Paul Koering of Fort Ripley says he didn't know his party was releasing the video. Koering, one of two openly gay members of the Senate, says he won't support any efforts to take the bill out of the normal legislative process.

"Obviously it's an important bill and we need to have it work its way through the process so that emotion and all of the other things that come along with it are not in to play," he said.

The pressure to get the ballot will only increase in the coming weeks. An interest group says it will start running statewide ads later this week on the issue.

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