House approves same-sex marriage ban constitutional amendment while budget talks simmer

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton emerged from a late afternoon meeting Saturday (May 21) reporting no progress in budget talks with Republican legislative leaders.

“This is just nonsensical they’re not willing to be reasonable and balanced and meet me half-way,” said Dayton.

While Republican leaders expressed optimism, they reported no progress.

“This isn’t about having a government bare-boned. This is about a tax increase and more spending,” said House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove.

Another meeting between leaders is planned for Sunday afternoon.

This afternoon’s leadership meeting — second meeting of the day — came same day the House approved a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Hundreds of supporters and opponents have echoed the Capitol corridors with chants — the Rotunda balcony railing has been draped with colorful signs and ringed by activists.

Debate on the proposed amendment on the House floor was intense and personal.

Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, spoke of hard-fought social advances made by minority groups in America, and how the proposed amendment seemed an invitation to prejudice.

“We’re taking a giant step backwards,” said Kelly of pursuing the same-sex marriage ban amendment.

“America isn’t easy,” said Kelly, saying the country confronts people with difficult choices.

The episode on the House floor on Friday — the prayer offered by a conservative radio talk show personality “with more hatred than I’ve ever heard,”  said Kelly — would have had the House voting down the proposed amendment had it been offered Friday, he argued.

Kelly asked a Democrat not to re-refer the proposed amendment back to committee, but let the House vote. Kelly thought the House would vote it down.

Rep. Denise Dittrich, DFL-Champlin, said she formerly had supported the proposed amendment.

No more.

Times are too difficult, Dittrich explained. “Today is not the time to be dividing,” said Dittrich.

“What a divisive issue this is,” she said.

Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, cited legal and heartfelt reasons for voting down the proposed amendment.

“I’m really hoping some of you came today to the chamber with open minds and open hearts,” said Hortman.

She spoke of a civil and religious side to marriage, drawing distinctions. “We are not a church,” she said of the Legislature.

Hortman spoke of constitutional guarantees, equal protection under the law. “And because of our oath (of office), I don’t think we can vote for this today,” argued Hortman.

A number of lawmakers spoke of their personal confrontations with prejudice.

“We were constantly told we were Christ-killers,” said Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, a Jewish lawmakers of growing up in a neighborhood in Duluth. As a young man, he pretended he wasn’t Jewish, Paymar explained.

He warned passage of the amendment would create a toxic political atmosphere.

“You cannot hide by pretending you’re letting the people decide,” said Paymar of being responsible for it.

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, expressed frustration today over Dayton’s unwillingness to act on their budget bills. Dayton is first looking for a budget agreement. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, a lawmaker with physical limitations, spoke of its impact on his life.

“Most kids loved (school) recess, members. I hated it, because I was scared and had the fear of being bullied and discriminated against,” he said.

Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, an Iraq veteran who lost his legs in action, recalled glancing at them after the explosion, seeing how managed they were, and thinking he was going to die. But thoughts of his wife steeled his reserve to live, he explained.

He cannot accept taking away from others the right to marry, he explained. “If there was a ‘Hell No’ button, that’s the one I’d press,” he said of voting against the legislation.

“Hear that out there,” he said, pointing outside the House to the Capitol corridors ringing with opponents chanting, ‘just vote no.'”

“That’s what I fought for,” he said. “And I’m proud,” Kriesel said.

Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, said the issue of same-sex marriage is a deeply personal one.

Gottwalt is carrying the legislation in the House.

He spoke of it being too important to let a small number of people, judges for instance, decide the issue.

“The people want an opportunity to decide,” he said. “That is not an unreasonable proposition,” said Gottwalt. “We are not taking away rights,” he said.

Minnesota already has a defensive of marriage act in state law, Gottwalt noted.

The House debated the proposed amendment for five hours.

It passed on a 70-62 vote. The Senate has already passed the proposed amendment.

Dayton strongly opposes the proposed amendment, saying while religions can define marriage as they wish, public officials have a duty to uphold constitutional protections.

Dayton cited the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution as a defining legality. “That certainly ought to include the ability to marry legally the person you love,” said Dayton of the 14th Amendment.

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