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Koenen says no vote on gay marriage reflects district's wishes

ST. PAUL - Sen. Lyle Koenen said his vote Monday against the gay marriage bill reflects the wishes of a majority of people in his west central Minnesota district as well as his personal views.

Koenen, of Clara City, was one of three DFL senators who voted against the bill allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Koenen represents District 17, which includes Willmar.

"The way I look at it, I need to do the best job I can to represent the district, and it's pretty clear the district leans on the side of voting no," said Koenen in a telephone interview after the vote.

Koenen said he's been asked if he was "comfortable about that on a personal level."

Having been born and raised in the district he now represents, Koenen said his personal beliefs align with a majority of his constituents on gay marriage.

He said during the last couple weeks, when it was evident the issue would come to the House and Senate floors for a vote, he had to "rethink and explore my own conscience to see if that's where I'm at or if I changed my mind."

But Koenen said he "ended up at the same place" and decided to vote against the bill.

He said DFL leaders were "respectful" of his position and did not pressure him to change his vote.

Koenen said he's not surprised the measure passed, and after Gov. Dayton signs the bill today, Koenen predicts "a lot of people will be happy and even more people will be unhappy" that gay marriage will be legal in Minnesota.

"I know there are strong feelings on both sides," he said.

Koenen said he believes the bill provides adequate protection for religious institutions, but said there may be some unknown legal issues that could arise as the new law is implemented, and some legislators may want to take action next year to ensure religious protection is "crystal clear."

But Koenen said he's confident that issues will be resolved and in the end it will "be fine."

After a quick check of his email Monday afternoon, Koenen said he had not seen a lot of constituent feedback on the gay marriage issue - either before or after the vote.

He said the issue that he has heard a lot about is taxing beer.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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