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Gay marriage debate will continue

ST. PAUL — Organizations that took the lead in an election fight to ban gay marriage will keep working as Minnesota lawmakers debate the issue, and even debate whether to debate the issue.

Minnesotans United for All Families will continue its work to legalize gay marriage while the leader of anti-gay marriage Minnesota for Marriage says that group needs to keep up the fight, too.

On Nov. 6, voters defeated an attempt to outlaw gay marriage in the state Constitution. But the ban remains in state law.

Democratic leaders generally support gay marriage, but have hesitated embracing a law change in 2013.

The November vote only meant that “people don’t want to stop that discussion fully,” House Speaker-designate Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said. “They don’t want to lock into our state Constitution a definition of marriage.”

Discussions need to continue, he said. In the meantime, the U.S. Supreme Court plans to take up a gay marriage case that could overrule anything Minnesota does.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he knows bills will be introduced to allow gay marriage, but he does not favor that debate in the legislative session beginning Jan. 8.

“The more pressing thing probably this session is the budget,” Bakk said.

Chairman John Helmberger of Minnesota for Marriage is not buying DFLers’ talk.

“Don’t be fooled by the public statements made by the majority leaders in our new Legislature,” Helmberger wrote in a fundraising appeal to gay marriage opponents. “Right now, gay marriage activists are pressing our new Legislature and their ally Gov. Dayton to redefine marriage, just as we warned would happen throughout the amendment campaign.”

Indeed, pro-gay marriage groups are looking at how they can overturn the ban.

An Associated Press study showed that more than a quarter of the state’s 201 legislators live in districts that voted opposite how their parties stand on the marriage issue (Democrats generally in favor of gay marriage and Republicans opposed). That leaves a big question mark on how legislators might vote on the issue.

Reforming elections

Incoming Assistant Senate Majority Leader Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, has her sights set on improving the state’s election process as incoming chairwoman of the Senate elections subcommittee.

“I will be looking into, as part of that committee, why some of the lines for voting were so long,” Sieben said.

“I also think that we’ll have a robust discussion about early voting,” she said.

Early voting would allow Minnesotans to head to cast ballots before Election Day. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has suggested Minnesota should explore the option, as other states have implemented a similar system.

Sieben said discussions about campaign finance reform will be raised as well.

“I also think there’s more we can do around campaign finance reform to increase the amount of disclosure that people running for office and elected officials need so the public is more aware of what potential sources of conflict that person could have,” she said.

Gov. Mark Dayton also has mentioned campaign reform as a top priority for 2013.

Dayton often has said he only will sign a major campaign law change if it arrives on his desk with broad bipartisan support.

Arming teachers

Two Republican legislators with long law enforcement backgrounds want to allow teachers to carry guns.

Two key Democrats oppose the concept.

“I would absolutely be open to personnel in the school who are certified and trained to have the option to do that,” Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said. “They will have to be trained. I just don’t think that is unreasonable.”

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, also proposes arming some school employees.

Ingebrigtsen said that the principal at the Connecticut school where 20 students died in December did the noble thing in trying to stop the gunman, and got herself killed in the process. If she had a gun, the senator said, maybe she could have saved lives.

“I don’t think too many people will disagree,” Ingebrigtsen said.

Two key people do disagree. Gov. Mark Dayton said that it does not make sense to arm school personnel and House Speaker-designate Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said such a bill will not pass the House.

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.