Listen: gay marriage suit (williams) -1995

MPR’s Brandt Williams reports that three same-sex couples filed a lawsuit challenging Minnesota's ban on gay marriage. The couples say the ban violates their constitutional rights and that state law should treat their relationships the same as heterosexual couples.

The lawsuit filed in Hennepin County District Court aims to overturn Minnesota's 1997 Defense of Marriage Act. But even some supporters of same-sex marriage oppose seeking the right to marry through the courts. They worry that the lawsuit could hurt their cause in the long run.


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BRANDT WILLIAMS: The plaintiffs are four men, two women, and one six-month-old boy. Both of the male couples have been married in other states where gay marriage is legal. Tom Trisko married his partner of nearly 40 years in Canada, in 2005. But Trisko says, one of the reasons he is filing the suit in Minnesota, is that he doesn't want to have to live somewhere else in order to be legally married.

TOM TRISKO: I've lived here all my life. This is my home. I don't want to live in Canada or Iowa. [COOING] I've always been a Minnesotan.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: The baby cooing in the background is the youngest plaintiff, Sean Campbell. Campbell's biological mother, Lindzi and her partner, Jessica Dykhius have not sought an out-of-state marriage, nor have they held a commitment ceremony. Dykhius says, they will wait until they can legally marry. But she says until then, she feels compelled to carry legal papers to document that she shares responsibility for Sean.

JESSICA DYKHIUS: I have a piece of paper that you would give a babysitter, basically, that would allow me to make some decisions in an emergency based on the dates on the top, and that doesn't seem fair or right or true.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: The couple say these are a few examples of how the state's current law discriminates against them, so they have sued the Hennepin County registrar. According to the complaint, the registrar denied the couple's marriage licenses because they wanted to marry someone of the same sex. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman issued a statement saying that the County has received the suit, and is in the, quote, "Initial phase of evaluation."

The couple's attorney, Peter Nickitas, says the state's current law, which is enforced by County registrars, violates the state's Constitution in a number of ways. He says, same sex couples are being denied due process, and Nickitas says they're being denied equal protection under the law because the state grants a civil right to one group of people and not another.

PETER NICKITAS: By making an unjust classification, the state runs afoul of its own state Constitution by prohibiting same sex marriages.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: This is not the state's first lawsuit involving gay marriage. In 1971, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled against a gay couple who filed suit. Nickita says times have changed, and he is confident today's Supreme Court will throw out the nearly 40-year-old law. But not everyone sees it that way.

PHIL DURAN: The court strategy is a difficult one.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: Phil Duran is a legal director for OutFront Minnesota, a group that advocates for legalizing same sex marriage. Duran says, while his organization supports the spirit of the lawsuit, he says it's unlikely to succeed in overturning the 1971 decision. He says the best way to achieve same sex marriage in Minnesota is to work through the state legislature.

PHIL DURAN: When you look at the legislature, again, the attitude there has shifted considerably in recent years. And we suspect that we're moving fairly quickly toward a time when the legislature would enact marriage equality legislation.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: Currently, legislators are considering several related bills, including a proposal for the state to recognize same sex unions from other states. But Duran says it's possible that legislators may delay taking action on these bills in order to wait for the lawsuit to work its way through the courts. And he says that could take several years. For same sex marriage opponents like the Minnesota Family Council, the lawsuit and the proposals at the Capitol are reason to speed up their efforts to ban same-sex marriage in the state Constitution. Spokesperson Tom Pritchard.

TOM PRITCHARD: With the introduction and the hearing of six bills that would redefine marriage in the legislature, this session really points out there's an aggressive effort to redefine marriage. And I think it points out from our standpoint, the need for the people of Minnesota to be able to vote on this through a constitutional Amendment.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: The Bills introduced last year in the House and Senate that seek a constitutional Amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, have both stalled. Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio News.

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