Vote on same-sex marriage less certain after appearance by anti-gay pastor

A freshman Republican House member apologized Friday for inviting a pastor who has frequently spoken out against homosexuality to deliver an opening prayer — an appearance legislators of both parties denounced.

Rep. Ernie Leidiger, R-Mayer, confirmed that he invited Bradlee Dean to give a prayer on the House floor, which Leidiger said just happened to be scheduled on the same day House leaders considered voting on whether to put a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the 2012 ballot.

The vote was less certain after Dean's appearance, and the House was expected to recess until evening. There was no vote on the amendment in Friday evening's session. House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, wouldn't say when or whether he would hold a vote on the marriage amendment.

"We didn't know he was that controversial, certainly I didn't," Leidiger said. "That was not my intention to bring a controversial figure like that in before the House. This is an honest mistake."

Dean, pastor of Old Path Church of Minneapolis and founder of You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International ministry, in the past has called gay people criminal predators. In his remarks Friday, he talked about the U.S. Constitution but did not mention homosexuality. He did take a shot at President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

"I know this is a non-denominational prayer in this chamber, it's not about the Baptists, it's not about the Catholics alone, or the Lutherans or the Wesleyans or the Presbyterians or Evangelicals but rather the head of the denomination, and his name is Jesus — as every president up until 2008 has acknowledged, and we pray it in Jesus' name," Dean said.

Rep. Ernie Leidiger
Rep. Ernie Leidiger, R-Mayer, invited controversial pastor Bradlee Dean to say a prayer before the House on Friday, May 20, 2011. Leidiger said in an interview that he didn't know about Dean's past comments about gay people and said it was an honest mistake to invite Dean.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Dunbar

As DFL and GOP House members expressed outrage over Dean's appearance, a vote in the House over the amendment appears to be less certain, especially given that some Republicans had already said lawmakers should focus on the budget before taking up the issue. The Senate already approved the measure, so the House vote is the last step toward putting it before Minnesota voters.

Zellers restarted the floor session after Dean's prayer and had the regular House chaplain give a second prayer.

Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, asked leaders to assure that such an incident would never happen again.

"I've always thought of the House prayer as an opportunity for us to contemplate together, to come together before the heat and battle of what can sometimes be partisan politics. It was an expectation, it was a hope that I felt was fulfilled every day I came to this chamber until today. Within the last hour this hope has been crushed by a single person's words," Morrow said.

Meanwhile, the two openly gay members of the Legislature — Rep. Karen Clark and Sen. Scott Dibble, both DFLers from Minneapolis — issued a statement saying they had never seen such a hateful person be allowed to deliver the opening prayer.

Zellers said after the House went into recess that he had not invited Dean. He later issued a statement and appeared on the House floor to apologize.

"Earlier today, a prayer was given by a man I personally denounce," Zellers said. "That type of person will never, ever be allowed on the house floor again. You have my commitment, you have my personal apology."

PROSPECTS FOR VOTE ON AMENDMENT

Hundreds of protesters on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate were back outside the Minnesota House chamber in full volume Friday.

If the amendment comes to a vote, it will likely pass the GOP-controlled House. But at least two GOP House members — Reps. John Kriesel of Cottage Grove and Tim Kelly of Red Wing — have publicly come out against the measure.

Kriesel said he had expected to see a vote on Friday. But after the Dean appearance, Kriesel said he didn't think House leaders would bring the measure to the floor during the evening session.

"We won a small victory," Kriesel said.

But the representative sponsoring the marriage amendment, Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, said he hopes the House can still take up the bill. He said Republicans are waiting for DFL Gov. Mark Dayton to begin real negotiations on the budget.

"Certainly there's time for other things," Gottwalt said.

As for his reaction to the morning prayer, Gottwalt joined his colleagues in denouncing Dean.

"The marriage amendment has always been about having a discussion among the people of Minnesota — decently, respectfully — about the definition of marriage between one man and one woman," he said. "Any other agenda is inappropriate, especially an agenda that has hate. What happened this morning was both unfortunate and disgusting to a certain extent."

(MPR reporters Tim Nelson and Tom Scheck contributed to this report.)

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