Proposed same-sex marriage ban amendment advances in Senate

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

In the still of a Senate committee room today (Friday, April 29) Jeff Wilfahrt of Rosemount spoke of his dead son, Spc. Andrew Wilfahrt, age 31, killed by an insurgent bomb on Feb. 27 in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.

Wilfahrt was not speaking at a memorial, but against legislation he depicted as an insult to his son, a gay soldier.

“On the battlefield, both heteros and homosexuals bleed red. I cannot imagine what those last moments of life must have  been for him,” said Wilfahrt.

“He was bagged and carried from the field by his fellow soldiers, and I know his sexuality did not matter one whit to them,” he said.

“Had he lived and returned here, look what he would find. A bill proposal to modify the constitution of this state, denying a minority to chose a marriage partner of the same sex,” Wilfahrt. said.

Same-sex marriage is already illegal in Minnesota, he noted. “How much more insulting now to use the constitution meant to secure rights as a means to deny rights,” he said. “I truly ask what is the subtext of this bill to amend our constitution really about?” asked Wilfahrt.

A long list of testifiers and Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee members debated that exact question for three hours today before the committee passed Sen. Warren Limmer’s proposed constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters, would define marriage in the state constitution as the union of man and woman.

The bill passed the committee on a party line vote.

“This is discrimination clear and simple,” said Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights.

“Nobody had any votes on my marriage,” said Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville.

But Limmer, R-Maple Grove, asked why shouldn’t the public by allowed to help decide a policy issue “rather than a small group, you and me, and maybe a judge or two,” he said.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, argued that “rights” should not come up for votes. “But marriage is not a right — it’s a privilege,” he said.

Members of the religious community spoke for and against the proposed amendment.

Catholic Bishop John Quinn, of the Diocese of Winona, indicated Minnesota Catholic bishops support the legislation. Quinn spoke of same-sex marriage as an “untested social experiment.”

Marriage concerns not just the happiness of two people, he explained, but also the welfare of society.

Religious leaders in the Muslim and Jewish faiths also testified in favor the bill.

Rabbi Moshe Feller of St. Paul said same-sex marriage “can never be recognized by authentic Judaism.”

Rev. Bob Battle, of Beran Church in St. Paul, a person of color, took issue with the idea that same-sex marriage revolved around civil rights. “And I don’t think it (the civil rights movement) has anything to do with same-sex marriage,” he said.

But other religious leaders — some from the same faiths as the leaders who testified in support of the proposed amendment — spoke out against it.

“We believe God has blessed these families,” said Rev. LeeAnne Watkins of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church of St. Paul, speaking of her church’s support of same-sex couples and their children.

Don’t believe all people of all religious faiths support the proposed amendment, Watkins warned.

They don’t, she said.

Others bill opponents argued the amendment was needless, a calculated distraction, divisive without accomplishing anything.

But House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove,  believes a same-sex marriage ban constitutional amendment will be passed by the House.

Limmer’s bill now goes to the Senate Rules Committee.

Although Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has strongly spoken out against placing a same-sex marriage ban amendment on the ballot, as governor he is unable to stop one procedurally. Governors cannot veto proposed constitutional amendments.

Goodwin voted against Limmer’s bill, with senators Thompson, Mike Jungbauer of East Bethel, and Dan Hall of Burnsville voting in favor.

Today’s Senate hearing took place before a packed committee room with dozens of people watching the hearing on television in the nearby Capitol Great Hall.

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