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Senators vote to let public decide on gay marriage

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Republican senators do not want their state to become another Iowa.

Two years ago, Supreme Court justices in the state to the south unanimously overturned a law defining marriage as between one man and one woman, much like a law on Minnesota books. Minnesota Rep-ublicans took a step to avoiding an Iowa situation Wednesday by approving 38-27 a proposed state constitutional amendment to not allow gays to marry.

A similar bill awaits a House vote.

"I have a growing discomfort with a small number of politicians in St. Paul deciding this," Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said.

And, he added, he is even more uncomfortable "with an even smaller number of judges deciding it."

The proposed amendment, if the House also approves it, would be put in front of voters in the November 2012 election.

The issue has been in front of the Minnesota Legislature for years. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, a potential presidential candidate, tweeted on Wednesday that she remembers the same debate when she was in the body: "As a MN state senator I introduced a constitutional marriage amendment; 8 years later it's finally coming up for a vote."

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, said he fears that without the marriage definition in the state Constitution judges could overturn the state marriage law.

A few states are like Minnesota and have the anti-gay marriage provision in law but, Limmer said, 31 states define marriage in their constitutions.

The Senate's only openly gay member said he and his partner make a couple like any married couple.

"What is so different about us, what is wrong?" Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, asked, showing a picture of the two men.

"We have made a lifetime commitment based in love," he added.

A campaign leading up to next year's public vote would "create a climate of hostility and fear," Dibble said. "We are going to have an ugly, divisive campaign with millions and millions and millions of dollars pouring into this state from other places."

Some Democrats complained that Republican leaders seem to be ignoring their No. 1 job: write a new budget and fill a $5 billion deficit.

"What has happened to our focus?" Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, asked.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.