Marriage amendment debate divides Granite Falls

Sen Lyle Koenen
State Senator Lyle Koenen DFL-Clara City represents the eastern third of Granite Falls. He says his vote in the House to put the marriage amendment on the ballot was one of votes he spent the most time deliberating.
MPR Photo/Sasha Aslanian

When former state Rep. Lyle Koenen broke with fellow Democratic lawmakers to put the marriage amendment on the November ballot, he thought voters in his district likely would support the amendment, which would make marriage only between a man and a woman.

"For me, it was probably one of the votes that I spent the most time considering what to do of any vote I've ever taken in the legislature," Koenen said of his vote 2011 vote in the House.

Koenen who has since won election to the state Senate and is running for another term, said there is not a visible gay population in his district, which includes the eastern edge of Granite Falls, population 3,000.

"There are more gay and lesbian people than most people believe," he said. "A lot of them are pretty quiet, as far as actual couples, you don't see that as much. But yeah, they're here."

Ladies Slipper Garden Club
Members of the Granite Falls Ladies Slipper Garden Club. Ruby Hieb (left) Sharon Schuler (center) and Pearl Lenzen (right). Hieb and Lenzen will vote no, and Schuler will vote yes.
MPR Photo/Sasha Aslanian

Koenen said he understands the concerns of gay people who think the amendment would discriminate against them, but the message he received from western Minnesota was clear: put the amendment on the ballot so Minnesotans can vote on it.

"I didn't get a lot of people disappointed in my vote," he said. "I think in actual contacts I only got eight that said, 'You voted the wrong way.' "

One of those disappointed constituents was the Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski.

"Personally, I have a real issue with using the constitution to restrict people's rights," said Smiglewski, who has been the town's mayor for 16 years. "We had a very nice chat about it."

Smiglewski, who also is the publisher of the town's newspaper, the Advocate Tribune, said people in Granite Falls may have strongly held views, but they don't show much on the surface.

"You don't see a lot of 'Vote No' or 'Vote Yes' signs," he said. "People keep their views pretty close to their vest maybe because they know there can be hurt feelings one way or another. Being political in a small town is not so easy."

You don't see a lot of 'Vote No' or 'Vote Yes' signs

But members of the Ladies Slipper Garden Club, who were gardening on a busy boulevard, were willing to share their views.

Lois Dahlager said she'll vote for the amendment because of her religious views.

"In creation, God created man and he also created a woman to stand beside him," Dahlager said. "And they are to leave their parents and cleave together as a family."

Her friend Ruby Hieb will vote no because she believes it's fine for same-sex couples to marry. "The people I have known are just as nice as anyone else," Hieb said. "And somewhere this is going to happen to anybody's relatives. God doesn't want us to judge."

The rest of the Ladies Slipper Garden Club are evenly split, and seem comfortable cancelling each other's votes come Election Day. In Granite Falls, friends and neighbors may not agree on the marriage amendment, but they're cordial.

"You can have your opinion and people don't judge you for it," Hieb said.

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