Legislature sends anti-gay marriage amendment to 2012 election
ST. PAUL -- An 18-month campaign about gay marriage began moments after the Minnesota House approved a constitutional amendment on the issue late Saturday.
And if the five-hour House debate is any indication, Minnesotans are in for 18 months of emotional and hard-fought campaigning. The campaign is expected to bring in millions of dollars for both sides.
An hour after the House voted 70-62 to ask voters to decide whether marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman, those opposed to the amendment launched their campaign, Minnesotans United for All Families.
Bill sponsor Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, said the issue is so important that the public should decide it.
"Not all wisdom resides here in the state Legislature and not all wisdom resides in our courts," Gottwalt said as debate wound down.
As votes were tallied, "just vote no" chants came from outside the House chamber.
Opponents said they do not like where the amendment campaign could take Minnesota.
"That makes me fear for our state," Rep. Kate Knuth, DFL-New Brighton, said.
The House debate, the most emotional in years, climaxed with Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, explaining why he was one of four Republicans to vote against the amendment.
Kriesel recalled losing both legs to an improvised explosive device in Iraq.
"I nearly died..." Kriesel said to a silent House. "I thought I was dead. I remember thinking about my life and kids. ... It changed me."
If he can be with who he loves, the freshman lawmaker said, others also should have that ability.
His wife sitting nearby, Kriesel added that he joined the Army at 17 because "I love the country."
"This amendment doesn't represent what I went to fight for," he said, with demonstrators' chants drifting in from outside the House chamber. "Hear that out there? That is what I went to fight for and I am glad about that."
After ending on the losing side, Kriesel went out through the giant House doors to the loudest cheer of the day from gay rights supporters.
He walked past them en route back to his office, with dozens of people shaking his hand or offering a hug.
When he left, the crowd of a couple hundred resumed singing "We Shall Overcome" and chanting "We Will Prevail."
"Our campaign is hitting the ground running and we plan on using every resource available to defeat this anti-family constitutional amendment," said spokesman Donald McFarland of Minnesotans United for All Families.
While amendment opponents stayed around the Capitol to cheer on their campaign, most supporters slipped out after the vote.
If it passes, the constitutional amendment would, in essence, ban gay marriage in Minnesota. That already is in state law, but amendment supporters say a law is too easy for politicians or judges to change.
Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, the newest House member, said she worries about Minnesota kids.
"Gay kids, gay teenagers, they don't just live in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth..." she said. "They live all over our state."
With tears in her eyes, she told about a young lesbian couple in her northeastern Minnesota area. One of the women operates a hotline "so teenagers and children could call her and talk to her about being gay and lesbian. She said the children were scared because of the way society treats gays and lesbians."
Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, was the only Republican supporting the amendment to speak other than Gottwalt. He said his teen-age children support gay marriages, but are happy it will be on the ballot next year.
His daughter will vote in her first election, he said. "She will be voting on it; she won't be voting for it."
Hamilton said he struggled with the decision to support the amendment.
He offered support for the other side, reminding them of something his mother told him: "Don't hate the opposition, respect them, for they, too, are standing up for what they believe in."
Pro-amendment Web site: www.mfc.org
Anti-amendment Web site: www.minnesotansunitedforallfamilies.com
Four Republicans opposed the marriage amendment: Reps. John Kriesel of Cottage Grove, Tim Kelly of Red Wing, Steve Smith of Mound and Rich Murray of Albert Lea. Two Democrats voted for the measure: Reps. Lyle Koenen of Clara City and Denise Dittrich of Champlin.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.