House sends same-sex marriage ban to 2012 ballot

Same-sex marriage protesters
A crowd of protesters chanted at the Minnesota State Capitol late Saturday night as the House was debating a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in the state. The House passed the measure 70-62, sending it to the November 2012 ballot.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

A proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is headed for the state's 2012 general election ballot.

The Minnesota House voted 70-62 Saturday to put the measure before voters, ending several days of competing prayer and hope at the State Capitol.

Inside the House chamber, the debate was some was some of the most personal and wrenching in memory.

Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, told of being turned down for job after job on the railroad where his dad worked, because of a birth defect affecting his right arm. Other kids could always count on getting summer jobs at the railroad, he said.

"The doctor looked at me and said, 'I can't pass you, because of your handicap, because of your arm, because of your physical lack of ability,'" Ward recalled. "I remember being angry, disappointed, hurt, frustrated. But mostly, I remember I will never, ever allow discrimination, to the best of my ability, ever again."

It was one of a succession of personal revelations by members of the House, poised to put a ban on same-sex marriage before the state's voters.

Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, revealed his great-grandfather had been a slave, and his grandfather considered himself a black man and feared Jim Crow laws in the South.

"This amendment doesn't represent what I went to fight for."

Rep. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said his own interracial marriage was once against the law, and urged his colleagues not to offer a similar bar to same-sex marriages for the Minnesota Constitution.

Only a pair of representatives spoke in favor of the measure. Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, said the proposed constitutional amendment wasn't about discrimination or hatred.

"We are not taking away rights. This is current state law," he said. "We've heard it said that nobody's interested in changing it. Yet, I've heard people are interested in changing it. Let Minnesotans discuss it."

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said even his own family was divided on the subject, and that his daughter would vote against the amendment.

"One of the representatives said they don't think this is going to pass. I don't know. I don't know if it is or not. But there are a few people, again, my children were asking for this as well, saying maybe you should bring it to us," Hamilton said.

Some of the most eloquent speeches against putting the measure on the ballot came from two of the four Republicans who voted no. Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, led the debate, and Rep. John Kriesel, an Iraq war vet and Republican from Cottage Grove, spoke of losing his legs in Iraq.

"This amendment doesn't represent what I went to fight for. This doesn't represent that. Hear that out there?" he said, referring to the hundreds of protesters in the hallways of the Capitol, "That's the America I fought for, and I'm proud of that."

Republican Reps. Steve Smith of Mound and Rich Murray of Albert Lea joined the Kelly and Kriesel in voting against the measure. Only two DFLers, Reps. Denise Dittrich of Champlin and Lyle Koenen of Clara City voted for the amendment.

Minnesota law already prohibits same-sex marriage, but supporters of the amendment say putting the language in the constitution would prevent a judge from overturning the law.

The House vote puts the measure on the 2012 ballot. Constitutional amendments only require a majority vote in the Legislature, and aren't subject to a gubernatorial veto. Both sides say they plan to launch efforts to sway voters.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, is one of two openly gay legislators. He said supporters of same-sex marriage will rise to the occasion.

"It's going to touch off 18 months of a very angry and divisive and negative campaign. But we're going to overcome all that anger and divisiveness and all of that misinformation that they're going to try and tell about us and our families with the truth, and the story of love and hope and positivity," Dibble said.

Gottwalt, the measure's sponsor, said he welcomes the debate, and will advocate for the amendment.

"I know there are concerns about how the conversation comes forward, but I believe in Minnesotans, and I believe that over the next months they can get very well informed about this issue and make their voices heard at the polls," he said.


The map below shows how members of the Minnesota House voted on a measure that sends a same-sex marriage ban before voters.