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Outcome of
Minnesota elections could impede same-sex marriage ban

Outcome of
Minnesota elections could impede same-sex marriage ban

Opponents of same-sex marriage concede that the outcome of two special elections in Minnesota will make it harder for them to put a measure on the November 2006 ballot that seeks to amend the state constitution to ban gay unions. Only the voters can amend the Minnesota constitution, but both houses of the legislature must vote first to put the measure on the ballot. The Republican-controlled house has overwhelmingly voted twice in the past two years to do just that, but the proposal has been blocked in the Democrat-controlled senate. Now voters in two special elections have chosen new Democratic senators who oppose a ban on same-sex marriage, and both of them are replacing Republicans who favored the amendment. Supporters of the amendment have blamed the senate majority leader, Dean Johnson, for blocking a floor vote. He said Wednesday he expects both sides will keep up the pressure this coming session. "Will it come up? I'm sure the conservative Republicans will push the issue, but it's less likely that it finds its way to the ballot question in November now than it did last session," Johnson said. Johnson said he intends to hold a committee hearing on the proposal, but the senate will focus most of its time on issues like transportation, education, and health care. He said Democrats Tarryl Clark of St. Cloud and Terri Bonoff of Plymouth won their recent special elections on those issues.

Minnesota already has a statute that forbids same-sex marriage, but social conservatives fear the courts could overturn the law, so they want the voters to decide if the state constitution should define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Sen. Michele Bachmann said statewide polls show Minnesotans support an amendment to ban marriage equality, and she'll continue to push for a vote even though she's lost some support in the senate. Senators who might have voted against the amendment before might feel a bit more pressure now, Bachmann said, because every member of the house and senate is up for reelection next year. "It could be difficult," she acknowledged. "I certainly admit that it could be difficult to get it on the ballot, but the dynamic that has changed is that now we're looking at an election year and this is an issue that is extremely popular with the voters." Sen. Scott Dibble called the amendment "mean-spirited" and discriminatory against same-sex couples. He said same-sex couples should enjoy the same health care, retirement, and legal benefits as married straight couples. Dibble, one of three openly gay legislators in Minnesota, said he was pleased that the special election results apparently will make it easier to keep the measure off of the ballot. "Because the hysteria and the fervor have died down and because this hasn't worked for them electorally...perhaps we won't see as much distraction in this upcoming legislative session," Dibble said. But Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council, said his group will continue to lobby the senate and that it will target senators in the next election who oppose the amendment. He said there's enough support to pass the measure on the floor if the senate Democratic leadership allows for a straight up-or-down vote. "They'll have to decide if this empowers them, but we think it's an issue that will not go away and will keep coming back and there will be strong support for it, and we think it will be an important issue in the fall if it doesn't get on the ballot," Prichard said. (AP)

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