Same-sex marriage opponents say time is right for amendment

Tom Prichard
Tom Prichard, executive director of the Minnesota Family Council, in a file photo. "The landscape has changed dramatically, and I think it opens the door for a marriage amendment," said Prichard.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Same-sex marriage opponents say the time is right to push for a constitutional amendment that would let Minnesota voters permanently define marriage as between one man and one woman.

They're counting on new Republican majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate to make sure the issue gets on the statewide ballot in 2012.

There have been several attempts in recent years to let voters decide whether to ban same-sex marriages. But the proposed constitutional amendment could never clear the DFL-control Minnesota Senate. That hurdle disappeared in last month's election, when Republicans captured the Senate majority for the first time in nearly 40 years.

"The landscape has changed dramatically, and I think it opens the door for a marriage amendment," said Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council.

Prichard said he was as surprised as anyone by the election results, and he's now preparing to take advantage of that open door. Prichard says a ban on same-sex marriage is needed to protect what he describes as a fundamental institution.

"There's a case now challenging the constitutionality of our marriage law, and there were bills introduced in the last legislative session to redefine marriage," he said. "We think this is an important enough issue that the people should have a say in it directly."

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The new Republican leaders have stressed that same-sex marriage and other divisive social issues are not a priority for the upcoming session. They say the focus must be on jobs and the economy.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, the soon-to-be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, agrees with those bread and butter priorities. But he's also planning to once again sponsor a marriage amendment bill. Limmer says under the Democrats, the issue was too often denied committee hearings or floor votes.

"Incumbent Republicans will never forget microphones being turned off on Michele Bachmann when she tried to bring this issue forward," he said. "So, we have long memories about that. And there's no question that this is a much more advantageous body in both the House and Senate this year."

Advocates on the other side of the same-sex marriage issue are also adjusting to the changed political landscape and getting ready for the looming debate.

Monica Meyer, executive director of the gay rights organization OutFront Minnesota, said she hopes Republicans stick to their economic priorities. Meyer said a proposed ban would make some Minnesotans second-class citizens.

"We really hope that our legislators really have moved past these kind of divisive debates, and really think about at the end of the day if a constitutional amendment passes, it hasn't helped one family," Meyer said. "It hasn't helped our economy. It hasn't helped our state in any way."

Before the GOP takeover, DFL Senator John Marty of Roseville was confident that his bill to legalize same-sex marriages was on the verge of passing. He said that bill is now on hold.

Marty said he expects some Republicans to push hard for a same-sex marriage ban. But he's trying to convince others that a constitutional amendment is a big political risk.

"If they did pass it, if they did pass one and put it on the ballot, I think it would go down," Marty said. "I think it would go down in flames, and I think it would go down with a lot of people coming out to vote, because they're on the wrong side of history. I think we're expanding human rights, not taking them away."

Legislators could take up the marriage amendment debate in 2011, or wait until the 2012 session. The yet-to-be-resolved governor's race is not a factor, since a governor can nether sign nor veto a constitutional referendum.