A constitutional amendment that would effectively moved one step closer to going directly before Minnesota voters last week. A bill which would put the amendment on the 2012 general election ballot passed the State Senate by a 38-27 vote that broke almost entirely down party lines.
Voters would be asked to approve amending the constitution to read, “only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota,” by the bill, which is expected to pass the House later this week. In addition, constitutional amendments voted on in elections do not require approval by the governor.
State Rep. Linda Slocum (DFL-Richfield) and State Sen. Ken Kelash (DFL-Richfield) shared their thoughts about the bill with Richfield Patch following a busy week at the Minnesota State Legislature.
Richfield Patch: You voted against the bill last week. Why?
Sen. Ken Kelash: I think government shouldn’t be in the business of [telling someone] who they can or can't love. Folks with a different attitude, with a different sexual orientation, shouldn’t be excluded. It's just flat out discrimination, and what's amazing is that I have two college-age daughters who can't even understand why this is an issue. Young people get that this [gay marriage] should be allowed ... Amending the constitution is a drastic way of doing this. Eliminating someone's rights in the constitution is a bad idea in first place. I think probably the biggest thing [about the legislation] is it’s a distraction from dealing with this budget crisis. There are so many things wrong with each bill it's hard to figure out.
Richfield Patch: What was the atmosphere on the Senate floor like last week prior to the bill being passed?
Kelash: There was a lot of great testimony regarding a variety of things this amendment would do to limit people's rights. In the end we didn't persuade a single Republican that this [putting a constitutional amendment before voters] was a bad idea. [The effort] is a political thing as well; they're pandering to their base to get them out at the polls.
Richfield Patch: What would be your preferred method for dealing with this issue?
Kelash: There’s a lot of different ways of dealing with it. The equivalent of marriage [could be allowed], but I don’t know how you do that without calling it marriage and establishing it under the same rules as the rest of [the state's] marriage laws.
Richfield Patch: What would you say to constituents who are against gay marriage and might like their representatives to vote in favor of putting the amendment on the 2012 ballot?
Kelash: To those folks that want the marriage amendment, this bill does nothing to their or anyone else's marriage. All it does is discriminate against people with a different sexual orientation. This a bad idea. There are already laws prohibiting gay marriage and a constitutional amendment is overstepping.
Richfield Patch: When do you expect the bill to be voted on by the House?
Rep. Linda Slocum: I have no idea. I don’t know how in control they [Republicans] are of their members. Being a minority member, I have absolutely no control over the calendar.
Richfield Patch: Do you expect the measure to pass?
I don’t know. My understanding is that the Tea Party types could care less if they get re-elected. They’re there to gum up the works as best they can. I don’t know if some of the Republicans I’ve worked with and respect can keep the newbies in line. Whether they can or can’t has a lot to do with [whether the bill is passed].
Richfield Patch: Why did you vote against the bill?
Slocum: I think [the constitutional amendment] serves right now as a kind of threat. Quite frankly the amendment is unnecessary–we already have it on the books that marriage is between a man and a woman in Minnesota. This is more about distraction, so they [the public] don’t see what we do. There’s not a single family that won’t feel it in this budget. Grandparents, school classrooms, whether their kid can or can't go to the [University of Minnesota] because the tuition rate has jumped up so much. The cuts are going to hit everybody. I think this is a way to distract people from the real issue–the budget.
Richfield Patch: Do you think this issue should be put before voters?
Slocum: [I’m] against putting this out as a constitutional amendment. What [Republicans are] doing is a way to short-circuit the Republican form of government ... [Republicans’] motivation is to appease the right wing extremists and get them out to vote.
Richfield Patch: What would you like to see done about this issue aside from a constitutional amendment?
Slocum: I would love to see a civil marriage kind of thing. On the flip side, does that make same sex couples who have a civil marriage second tier to [individuals married in] a religious marriage? I can argue both sides ... For me, marriage is a contract, [although] there’s also a religious element, depending on the people involved. It gives the right to health insurance and medical access, access to information. It opens up some equality issues. Those legal rights should be applied equally. Look at our divorce rate–don’t talk to me about the sanctity of marriage. The institution has evolved.
Richfield Patch: Why are there such different reactions to this issue among Minnesotans?
Slocum: It’s a touchy subject, and it depends on how it’s phrased. When you talk about marriage equality, who couldn’t be for that? But when you talk about gay marriage, it gets a little different.
Richfield Patch: What do you think your constituents think about the issue?
Slocum: Would my district be overwhelmingly for marriage equality? I don’t know. But I think, at least from the comments I’ve gotten from people, they would support marriage equality. Richfield, so that’s a step towards marriage equality. I’ve gotten e-mails from both sides. I would say more people have said ‘please, support marriage equality.’
This [is my position, this] is where I am. People can disagree. And I do think the majority in my Richfield and my Bloomington areas would agree with me ... I think I’m a pretty good representative for this area, [but] I go for a job interview every two years.
House Minority Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis/Richfield) was contacted for comment multiple times, however had not responded by the time this article was published.