William Mitchell law faculty opposes marriage amendment

Taking a stand against the marriage amendment on the November ballot, faculty at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul voted today on a resolution to oppose the constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between one man and one woman, and prohibit same-sex couples from marrying.

William Mitchell faculty members voted by secret ballot 24-7 in favor of a resolution that opposes what they call "the anti-marriage" amendment.

The resolution says the ballot initiative discriminates against gay and lesbian students, staff and faculty, and that limitations on civil rights should not be enshrined in the constitution.

Daniel Kleinberger was one of three faculty members who drafted the resolution. He teaches business and contract law, and describes himself as a conservative. Kleinberger said it's unusual for the faculty to take a vote on a political issue, but the amendment would affect campus life.

"This is not just an outside issue. This is not just something going on outside the walls of this institution. I have seven LGBT colleagues. That's a fifth of the faculty," Kleinberger said. "We have LGBT students, we have LGBT staff. We have a policy prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination on the campus."

Kleinberger said if the amendment passes it could also make it harder to attract top talent to Minnesota.

The resolution also includes plans to urge faculty at Minnesota's three other law schools to take similar votes. A spokesman for the University of St. Thomas School of Law said the issue is not on any upcoming agendas.

Morgan Holcomb, associate professor at the Hamline University School of Law, said faculty may take it up later this year. Twenty Hamline law professors sent a letter to the Legislature last year opposing the amendment.

The University of Minnesota Law School does not have a vote scheduled, although 63 faculty members signed a similar letter to the Legislature in opposition to the amendment.

Prominent Minnesotans such as former Vice President Walter Mondale and retired Supreme Court Justice Kathleen Blatz launched Lawyers United for All Families last month, and have attracted more than 700 legal professionals opposing the amendment.

But other lawyers support amending the Minnesota Constitution to define marriage.

What is put into the constitution can also be removed, said Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas and part of a group called Lawyers for Freedom and Marriage that's affiliated with the pro-amendment group, Minnesota for Marriage.

"I think the question is whether law school faculties should go beyond being a forum for informed intelligent debate on these sorts of public policy issues or whether they should impose a sort of uniformity of views and suggest a sort of monolithic view," Collett said.

Chuck Darrell, spokesman for Minnesota for Marriage, dismissed the vote.

"The William Mitchell vote won't make any difference. The people of Minnesota have been very clear," Darrell said. "They don't like how marriage is already on trial in Hennepin County District Court and they don't appreciate being told by more attorneys how to vote on the core institution of society: marriage as between one man and one woman.

"The Marriage Protection Amendment simply allows the people of Minnesota, not attorneys and judges, to decide the question of marriage."

William Mitchell Dean Eric Janus sent an email to students Wednesday afternoon explaining the faculty's vote as an effort to create a welcoming and inclusive culture. He also wrote that employees and students are free to express their own views on marriage and "people of good faith can, and do, differ on the subject of the definition of marriage."

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