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Minnesota Republican state senator announces he is gay

Minnesota Republican state senator announces he is gay

A Republican state senator from Brainerd, Minn., publicly announced on Wednesday that he is gay. Paul Koering, 40, a first-term senator from Fort Ripley, told the Brainerd Daily Dispatch that in recent weeks he's faced increasing questions from constituents about his sexuality, which for some time has been the subject of speculation at the state capitol and on Web sites. "I've always felt like my personal life is just that--personal," Koering told the newspaper. "I don't feel like I ever lied to anyone. I never deceived anyone." Last week, concerning a proposed state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, Koering was the only Republican to join all the chamber's Democrats in opposing an effort to force a floor vote on the matter. Koering, a businessman and former dairy farmer, said he still believes voters ultimately should be able to decide whether the state constitution should prohibit same-sex marriage. He said he disagreed with the way proponents tried to bypass the senate's committee process. Koering told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that his vote sparked "a frenzy of questions." He told the paper that his family, close friends, associates, and Republican colleagues in the senate all know he's gay. "My decision to come out publicly allows me to answer all the questions that need to be answered.... I'm hoping to put all this behind me by the end of the week and resume doing the job that my district is paying me for," Koering said. Koering is believed to be the first openly gay Republican to hold elected office in Minnesota. He admitted it could cause him problems in his central Minnesota senate district, which has been conservative on social issues and is seen as competitive between Democrats and Republicans. In 2002, Koering defeated longtime Democratic senator Don Samuelson, who held conservative views on a number of social issues. Koering said he plans to run for reelection in 2006 but expects to get rough treatment from both sides of the political spectrum--by gay rights advocates who could view him as a hypocrite and by social conservatives who view homosexuality as a sin. "I'm certainly not in a good place," Koering said. "No matter what I do from now on, somebody is going to be angry with me." Koering is a moderate Republican, and it's been rumored that he has considered switching to the Democratic Party. But he told the Brainerd newspaper that he plans to remain a Republican. It's unclear how Koering's announcement could affect the contentious debate over gay marriage in the legislature. Chuck Darrell, spokesman for the pro-ban group Minnesotans for Marriage, said he was glad Koering still supports a vote on the issue and predicted his revelation wouldn't move the debate. "We love the guy and have no ill will for him at all," Darrell said. But former state senator Allen Spear, who in 1974 became one of the first openly gay lawmakers in the country, said it might make some Republicans rethink the issue. "Him sitting there is going to affect what they say and how they say it," Spear said. "It creates a different kind of dynamic." Brian Lehman, Crow Wing County Republican Party chair, said many residents in his county are "very unhappy" that Koering voted against sending the same-sex-marriage ban to a floor vote. "If his personal preference for the homosexual lifestyle sways his vote incorrectly and against the Republican Party platform, then I would take issue with that," Lehman said. (AP)

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