Pediatrician Paul Melchert
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- You might call it the worst kept secret of the 2013 session, that state lawmakers would introduce a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota.
And when backers of the idea rolled out the measure Wednesday at the State Capitol, it became clear the public is in for repeat of the debate that dominated the 2012 election in Minnesota.
"We're affirming that thing that we all prize, the love that is the center of marriage" Sen. Scott Dibble, a Minneapolis Democrat told reporters.
Sen. Dibble married his partner, Richard Leyva, four years ago in California. He said he believed the public's attitude about same-sex marriages is changing in Minnesota.
Dibble based that, in part, on the fact that voters in November defeated a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as something that exists only between one man and one woman.
"That conversation was what is marriage all about? Why does marriage matter?" he remarked.
"Marriage is for everyone. Freedom is for everyone. Love is love."
The bill would repeal the statutory ban on same-sex marriage in Minnesota, known as the Defense of Marriage Act. It has been on the books since 1997, and wasn't changed by the defeat of the constitutional amendment.
If the legislation were to pass and be signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton, it would most likely go into effect August 1, 2013. That's the default date in bills that don't specify a date.
Members of group that spearheaded the "Vote No" campaign, Minnesotans United for All Families, appeared at a Capitol press conference with Dibble and other legislators backing the bill.
Among them were several gay and lesbian couples who brought their children along. They said they'd like their families viewed the same as others in the eyes of the law.
"We're a family in the eyes of God," Rabbi Michael Adam Latz said, referring to his husband Michael and two young children.
"But right here in my home state of Minnesota, the place where I was born, where we live, work, pay taxes and raise our children, we are legal strangers."
The bill, as written, specifies that religious groups, churches and other entities that oppose gay marriage will not be required to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies. They would also retain the right to refuse to host receptions connected to those marriages.
"We aren't prohibiting anything. We aren't compelling or requiring anything," Rep. Steve Simon, a St. Louis Park Democrat said.
"We're simply allowing people to do what will come naturally to them. Communities of conscience and others who disagree with this bill won't be compelled to do anything."
Opponents, at their own press conference, say Dibble and other backers of the bill are misinterpreting the results of the constitutional ballot issue.
"A 'no' vote on the ballot did not equate to a vote for same-sex marriage," Sen. Sean Nienow, of Cambridge told reporters.
"A 'yes' vote absolutely was a vote in opposition."
Sen. Warren Limmer, the Maple Grove Republican who authored the Marriage Amendment in 2011, asserted that many of those who voted against the amendment just didn't like the idea of putting that language in the Constitution.
"There's a lot of reasons to believe Minnesota's public is not ready for same-sex marriage," Sen. Limmer said.
"Nor are they ready for the legislature to take it upon themselves to change it at this time."
Sen. Dan Hall, a Burnsville Republican and pastor, said that as a clergy member he can't rely on the current wording of the bill, that exempts churches opposed to same-sex marriage.
"Once you open the door, you're not going to be able to shut it,"Sen. Hall said.
"I personally will go to jail before I ever perform a marriage to a homosexual."
Opponents say that the right to marry isn't the same as other basic civil rights guaranteed by the US and Minnesota Constitutions.
"I think basic rights should be available to all," Sen. Paul Gazelka of Baxter explained.
"But marriage is uniquely between a man and a woman. And we should not redefine it."
Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen took the debate into uncharted territory by challenging the notion that sexual orientation is an innate quality, comparable to race or ethnicity.
He called it a sexual choice.
"The human genome map was completed in 2003. There is no gay gene!" Rep. Gruenhagen said.
"Okay? So the concept that you're born that way -- that it's an immutable characteristic -- is an unscientific lie!"
Impact on Children
Both sides cited studies comparing the emotional well-being of children raised by two same-gender parents rather to those who grow up with two heterosexual parents.
"By erasing mothers and fathers from our public policy we're communicating that it doesn't make a difference if you have both a mom and a dad," Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, told reporters.
"You're saying that kids can be raised without both a mother and a father, that either is irrelevant. And that's wrong."
But Dr. Paul Melchert, a Twin Cities pediatrician who is raising twin boys with his longtime partner James, pointed out that the Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics voted last year to oppose the amendment banning gay marriage.
"Children raised by same sex couples, by same-gendered parents, fare equally well in all areas of emotional, psycho-social and behavioral adjustment."
Sen. Branden Petersen, a first-term Republican from Andover who has stated he plans to co-sponsor Dibble's bill, was not at the press conference.
But Pat Anderson, a former state auditor and member of the Republican National Committee, was at the event and spoke to reporters afterwards
"Times have changed," she said. "There were times in this country where you couldn't marry someone of a different race."
Anderson said three of her four grown children volunteered for the Vote No campaign in 2012. She said many younger Republicans, especially those in the "liberty wing" of the state GOP.
"Those folks very much believe in limited government. They believe that we should either not be involved in marriage, period. Or they support same-sex marriage."
The National Organization for Marriage has vowed to spend money to defeat any Republican who votes for legalizing gay marriage.
The local campaign, Minnesota for Marriage, will focus on generating opposition in local districts, and urging opponents to contact lawmakers who may be on the fence.
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