Listen: Same-sex marriage ban (Nelson) - 1646

MPR’s Tim Nelson reports that after nearly six hours of emotional debate, a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman was approved in the Minnesota House. It was the last legislative step needed to put the question on the statewide ballot in November 2012.


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TIM NELSON: It was a night of prayer and hope at the State Capitol.

SPEAKER: Holy Mary Mother of God. Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

TIM NELSON: Inside the House chamber, the debate was some of the most personal and wrenching in memory. DFL Representative John Ward of Brainerd has a disabled right arm. He told of being turned down for job after job on the railroad where his dad worked and where other kids could count on summer work.

JOHN WARD: The doctor looked at me and said, I can't pass you because of your arm, because of your physical lack of ability. And members, I remember being angry, disappointed, hurt, frustrated, but mostly, I remember I will never, ever allow discrimination to the best of my ability ever again.

TIM NELSON: It was one of a succession of personal revelations by members of the House, poised to put a ban on same-sex marriage before the state's voters. Representative Terry Morrow of Saint Peter revealed his great grandfather had been a slave. He said his grandfather considered himself a Black man and feared Jim Crow laws in the South.

Lawmaker Jeff Hayden said his own interracial marriage was once against the law, and urged his colleagues not to offer a similar bar to same-sex marriages for Minnesota's Constitution. Only a pair of representatives spoke in favor of the measure. Republican Steve Gottwalt of St. Cloud said the proposed constitutional amendment wasn't about discrimination or hatred.

STEVE GOTTWALT: We are not taking away rights. This is current state law, and we've heard it said that nobody's interested in changing it yet. I've heard people are interested in changing it.

TIM NELSON: Republican Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake said even his own family was divided on the subject, and that his daughter would vote against the amendment.

ROD HAMILTON: One of the representatives said they don't think this is going to pass. I don't know if it is or not, but there are a few people, again, my children were asking for this as well, saying, maybe you should bring it to us.

TIM NELSON: Some of the most eloquent speeches against putting the measure on the ballot came from two of the four Republicans who voted no. Tim Kelly of Red Wing led the debate, and disabled Iraq War vet John Kriesel spoke of losing his legs in Iraq.

JOHN KRIESEL: This amendment doesn't represent what I went to fight for. This doesn't represent that. Hear that out there? That's the America I fought for, and I'm proud of that.

TIM NELSON: Steve Smith of Mound and Rich Murray of Albert Lea joined Kelly and Kriesel. Only two DFLers, Denise Dittrich of Champlin and Lyle Conant of Claire City voted for the amendment. Minnesota law already prohibits same-sex marriage, but supporters of the amendment say putting the language in the constitution would prevent a judge from overturning the law.

The House vote puts the measure on the 2012 ballot. Constitutional amendments only require a majority vote in the legislature and aren't subject to a gubernatorial veto. Both sides say they plan to launch efforts to sway voters. DFL Senator Scott Dibble of Minneapolis is one of two openly gay legislators. He said supporters of same-sex marriage will rise to the occasion.

SCOTT DIBBLE: It's going to touch off 18 months of very angry and divisive and negative campaign. But we're going to overcome all that anger, and all that divisiveness, and all of that misinformation that they're going to try to tell about us and our families with the truth and with the story of love and hope and positivity.

TIM NELSON: Gottwalt, the measure's sponsor, says he welcomes the debate and will advocate for the amendment.

STEVE GOTTWALT: I know there are concerns about how the conversation comes forward, but I believe in Minnesotans. And I believe that over the next months, they can get very well informed about this issue and make their voices heard at the polls.

TIM NELSON: The vote will be November 6, 2012. Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio News at the Capitol.

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