Members of the Minnesota House voted to put a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman in front of voters on the 2012 ballot.
Despite an emotional five-hour debate, the vote came in at 70-62 Saturday, mostly along party lines, although four Republicans voted against the bill. The question will appear on the Minnesota ballot as a constitutional amendment in 2012.
The debate consisted mostly of testimony from opponents of the bill. Local House Rep. John Benson (DFL-Minnetonka) cited the United States Constitution, and his own conscience, as the driving factors behind his decision to oppose the measure.
“The 14th Amendment says no state can discriminate against anyone…A majority can’t deprive a minority of constitutional rights” Benson told his colleagues, urging them to stand for their conscience. “Come on and show some courage.”
Freshman Rep. John Kriesel (R-Cottage Grove), a veteran of the Iraq War who lost both legs in combat, was one of the Republicans to vote against the bill.
“This amendment doesn’t represent what I went to fight for,” Kriesel told his colleagues.
The bill’s House author, Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud) said the constitutional amendment was just an attempt to give voters a voice in an important issue. He brushed off criticisms that it violated the state or federal Constitution.
"I'm not here to interpret it vis-à-vis the bill of rights," Gottwalt said. "The 30 other states that have taken this approach have also, in their amendments, where they decided to do this, been found constitutional."
But Benson disagreed.
“It all amounts to treating others as you want them to treat you,” he said. “In this political world we find ourselves, my conscience comes first, my constituents come second, and my party and my desire to be reelected come a very distant third.”
Protesters chanted throughout the debate. And after the vote, State Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis), who is himself gay and was married to his husband Richard in 2008, spoke to those protesters.
“This movement keeps rolling on from today because we shall overcome,” Dibble told the crowd. “We are going to roll out of the Capitol and we are going to roll over the plains of Minnesota (and) we are going to show Minnesota who we are.”
"We've just begun to fight," the crowd chanted in response.