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Marriage bill advances after emotional day of hearings

Former Rep. Lynne Osterman
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Former Rep. Lynne Osterman: "I can tell you from experience that you will have to live knowing that a no vote is not fair, it’s not respectful and it’s not equal."

It was possibly the most emotional moment of one of the Legislature’s most emotional days. One after another, married couples, partners who’d like to be married, parents, children, clergy and others testified at twin hearings Tuesday on the proposed legalization of same-sex marriage.  

Partway into the proceedings, a slender woman stepped to the front of the room and took a seat next to Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, the bill’s chief author in the House of Representatives. Lynne Osterman introduced herself to the members of the Civil Law Committee — and promptly burst into tears.

Struggling, Osterman explained that she served a single term in the House as a Republican elected in New Hope. During her 2002-2004 term, she cast what she called a “politically expedient vote” in favor of Minnesota’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), banning gay marriage.

“I regret it,” Osterman said. “I can tell you from experience that you will have to live knowing that a no vote is not fair, it’s not respectful and it’s not equal."

She’d been holding in her remorse for a long time, Osterman added, still choking back tears.

'Please get this right'

“I blew my vote,” she said. “I’m imploring you, please get this right.”

Clark, one of the first openly lesbian lawmakers in the country and still one of three LGBT legislators in Minnesota, did not know Osterman would be coming to the hearing.

“It was a wonderful surprise,” she said. “It was just a very loving gift she gave the committee members.”

Twelve hours after the testimony started, the bill passed out of the House committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee on party-line votes of 10-7 and 5-3, respectively. The next step: the floors of both chambers.

Although lobbyists, lawmakers and gay rights advocates say they are confident that the initially hesitant DFL leadership would keep the bill off the floor if they lacked the votes for passage, it’s still projected to be close, particularly in the Senate.

If it passes, gays and lesbians can begin marrying Aug. 1, nine months after Minnesota became the first state to beat back a GOP-led attempt to enshrine a ban on same-sex marriage in the constitution.

'Time to finish what we started'

“In their wisdom, the voters rejected that amendment,” Marilyn Carlson Nelson, chair of Carlson Companies and an early equality booster in the business community, reminded a Senate committee. “Now I think it’s time to finish what we started.”

Young people overwhelmingly favor marriage rights, and Minnesota “cannot afford to disadvantage our work force” by failing to listen, she said.

Marilyn Carlson Nelson
MinnPost photo by James NordMarilyn Carlson Nelson, chair of Carlson Companies: "In their wisdom, the voters rejected that amendment."

Many of those who testified in favor simply described their families and what marriage would mean for them. Kate Wulf described marrying her partner Marianne Christianson in Canada.

“After 25 years of waiting we were legally wed,” she said. "It was the best day of our lives. And then we returned to Minnesota,” where they are strangers, legally.

Testimony about raising children

A number of witnesses on both sides testified to the effect the bill would have on raising children. In addition to pediatricians with opposing views, the committee heard from adults on both sides of the issue who grew up with LGBT parents.

“For those of you worried about the kids of gay parents, we’re doing just fine,” said David Patton, who also testified two years ago when the Legislature was debating putting the amendment on the ballot. “You’d be amazed what gay dads can teach you about impressing girls.”

A bisexual professor at California State University-Northridge, Robert Oscar Lopez talked about his painful experience growing up with lesbian mothers and his longing for a father. Along with another of the testifiers, National Capital Tea Party Patriots co-founder David Mainwaring, who is gay and who lives with his ex-wife, Lopez last month submitted an amicus curiae brief in one of the gay marriage-related cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Katherine Kersten
MinnPost photo by James NordKatherine Kersten: "Mother and father aren't gender-neutral words, that's a fiction."

The most prominent local testifier against the bill was Katherine Kersten, who warned that it would do far more than recognize new families. “A look at this bill reveals something more insidious than advocates let on is under way,” she said. “Mother and father aren’t gender-neutral words, that’s a fiction.”

If the majority of the testimony both for and against was emotional and personal, the balanced involved opponents’ concerns about religious freedom and proponents’ efforts to clarify the difference between laws concerning marriage and laws outlawing discrimination.

Concerns about lawsuits, religious issues

Opponents say that legalization of same-sex marriage will unleash a flood of lawsuits, persecutions and even forced church closures as people with deeply held religious beliefs are forced to participate in gay weddings. Clauses in the Minnesota bill saying churches will not be forced to perform weddings that violate their beliefs do not offer protection to businesses and service providers who also oppose same-sex marriage rights.

The same arguments have been made in TV and radio ads here and in other states where same-sex marriage has hit the agenda. Though the claims are typically distortions at best, it takes detailed, complicated explanations to debunk them.

Several testifiers mentioned a case being heard this week by the New Mexico Supreme Court involving a wedding photographer who in 2006 refused to take pictures at a lesbian commitment ceremony. The couple filed a discrimination complaint; two lower courts sided with the women.

Proponents counter that the example and others like it are conflations. Gay marriage is not legal in New Mexico and the state anti-discrimination laws require businesses and service providers to serve any customer regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, among other factors.

State Sen. Scott Dibble
MinnPost photo by James NordSenate bill sponsor Sen. Scott Dibble testifying on Tuesday.

Attorneys for the right-wing religious advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom argue that the photographer is protected by the First Amendment because requiring her to take pictures of a same-sex union would force her to convey a message that violated her beliefs.

Alliance staff counsel Ken Connely testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday about the case. “Either reject your faith and your God and bow to the new orthodoxy or keep your faith and your God and face lawsuits and sanctions,” he warned.

The situation would be much the same if it occurred today in Minnesota, countered Dale Carpenter, a University of Minnesota Law Professor and former board member of Minnesotans United for All Families, the group pushing for gay marriage. Recognizing the rights of gays and lesbians to marry would not change this, he said.

'It adds specific protections'

“We protect religion in ways other states aren’t even contemplating,” he said. “We have a special carve-out just to deal with sexual orientation.

“What the marriage bill does, in addition to giving same-sex couples the freedom to marry, is it reaffirms existing protections for religious freedoms,” Carpenter continued. “It adds specific protections for dealing with marriage ceremonies and solemnizations.”

The topic came up again and again, giving Carpenter multiple opportunities to explain that the Minnesota Human Rights Act, the law that governs discrimination, provides a “carve-out” designed to accommodate religious opposition to homosexuality.

The portion of the statute laying out the exemption: “Nothing in this chapter prohibits any religious association, religious corporation, or religious society that is not organized for private profit, or any institution organized for educational purposes that is operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious association, religious corporation, or religious society that is not organized for private profit, from … limiting admission to or giving preference to persons of the same religion or denomination; or in matters relating to sexual orientation, taking any action with respect to education, employment, housing and real property, or use of facilities. This clause shall not apply to secular business activities engaged in by the religious association, religious corporation or religious society, the conduct of which is unrelated to the religious and educational purposes for which it is organized.”

Sen. Dan Hill
MinnPost photo by James NordSenate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Dan Hill listening to testimony.

Broadest in the nation

This protection is the broadest in the country, Carpenter asserted. “This bill is not an opportunity for opponents of gay marriage to revisit this state’s commitment to nondiscrimination,” he said. “Nor is it an invitation to same-sex marriage supporters to trample religious liberties.”

To back up the point, Carpenter read the Minnesota Constitution’s bill of rights to the Senate committee, noting that it, too, guarantees religious freedom. Still, some lawmakers seemed confused about the distinction between the anti-discrimination statute and laws governing marriage, and even a little fuzzy on the difference between civil and religious marriage.

Moments before the House committee voted Tuesday night, Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, brought up the same DOMA vote that Osterman, the remorseful former lawmaker, had talked about in the morning. 

When that vote was taken nearly a decade ago, his legs were shaking, but he stood with Clark “in solidarity” in voting no. He understood his colleagues’ desire to let some time go by — to deal with the budget and to allow time for “everyone to feel heard,” several said — but he for one was ready for a floor vote.

“We will deal with the budget,” he said. “But we can deal with other issues; the time has come. This is the time, this is the year, this is the day.”

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Comments (18)

Don't worry churches

My catholic priest won't even marry hetero couples that are living together (and I would argue that generally we're a pretty liberal Parish -- not Joan of Arc liberal of course).

Catholic Priests can chose who they want to marry and can even refuse to marry a couple he thinks they are incompatible. Nothing about the state allowing gays to marry will change that.

Excellent Point

The same logic and precedent applies today to clergy who refuse to marry inter-faith or even inter-denominational couples. It is correctly the right of each clergy member to decide for themselves who they will and will not marry. All marriage equality will mean in the context of religious freedom is that clergy who choose to marry gay couples will have their decision respected under the civil law.

Count the votes

It will take at least 13 Republicans in the House and 7 in the Senate to pass this bill. Does anyone know who they are? The "missing" Democrats were elected from districts that also voted yes on the amendment.

So much for those who say...

the Republicans are changing. Look at the votes. They are not.

Catholic Priest and Marriage

I think we owe it to two people who are committed each other to recognize their union~marriage. A loving relationship is far more important than what the priest thinks is important The priest ought to be serving the people instead of the Archbishops and the Pope.

Religious Liberties

Conservative lawmakers were all ready to trample over religious liberties last year when they worked to enshrine the ban on gay marriage in the constitution. Where was their cry about liberties then?

Awesome

Awesome point!

Religious Liberties?

Let us remember that our "conservative" friends regard it as religious liberty only when EVERY OTHER expression of religious faith is FORCED, by law, to live according to their own very tender sensitivities.

When they put their ill-fated constitutional amendment on last year's ballot, they never gave a second thought to the religious rights of their fellow Christians who, upon carefully and prayerfully examining the scriptures, disagree with them about what those scriptures say regarding gay marriage.

That such "conservatives" would now protest that allowing OTHER Christian churches and other expressions of religious faith to legally marry same-gender couples within their OWN sanctuaries, according to their OWN best sense of faithfulness to God,...

is an infringement on the rights of those "conservatives," who, as it has already been said, will NEVER be required to perform such marriages, nor offer their sanctuaries for those purposes,...

is a testament that their position is not based on reality, nor on faithfulness to God, nor on the words of Scripture or the law(s) in question, but on their own fear that the changes now becoming reality in our society are rendering their own fear-based ideas and ideals will make their faith expressions seem increasingly anachronistic,...

as other faithful people allow God to call them into a better future for all God's people and the planet we share.

If our "conservative" friends would look to God for guidance rather than letting their fear dominate their thinking, they would likely come to very different perspectives regarding what God is now calling them to be and to do.

My irony meter

…occasionally goes off the charts. The “Alliance Defending Freedom” does that defending only for a very narrow slice of the population — about as narrow a slice as the very people they'd like to be able to discriminate against. Their website is something to behold, though that's not intended as a compliment. The site is technically well done, but its content is…um… creepy. It's really too bad that some of the most virulently “conservative” groups don’t seem to understand irony. If they did, name changes would be in order.

Tolerant progressives

I can't wait to see how all you progressives, using the power of the state, will impose your beliefs about "same sex marriage" upon the people of Minnesota, upon normal people, upon Jews, Christians, Muslims.

Don't think you're so pure as the driven snow. You're not.

Paranoid Conservatives

I get tired of that subsection of conservatives that assumes everyone else is as vengeful and manipulative as them.

Unlike you, we do not view the law as a tool to persecute those who believe differently. Unlike you, sir, we have no desire to impose our beliefs on anyone. You support the status quo, which imposes one religious view of marriage upon anyone who wishes to participate in the CIVIL contract of marriage. If imposition of beliefs were our goal, this bill would not suffice for two reasons.

First, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the many religions and their varied traditions of marriage. It regulates only the CIVIL contract called marriage. Second, it expressly states that no religion or person shall be compelled to change their beliefs regarding marriage, and also provides that no religious organization is required to solemnize or celebrate any marriage they do not approve of for any reason.

Nothing in your daily life will change. Nothing about your faith and your church will change. The only change is that the law will now not impose a religious view of civil marriage upon the populace.

There are plenty of Jews,

There are plenty of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and yes, even "normal people" who think state-recognized same-sex marriage is fine and dandy. The only thing that people against gay marriage have in common, really, is bigotry.

Additionally, the state isn't imposing diddly on you, since you aren't gonna be forced to marry a dude if you don't want.

Religious Liberty for Everyone

As pointed out by conservative, Republican law professor Dale Carpenter the authors of these bills took great pains to specifically and correctly include protections for religious institutions who choose not to marry same sex couples. If enacted, marriage equality would simply mean that those faiths which choose to marry gay couples will have their decisions respected by the state. Same applies, of course, for those couples who choose to be married outside any faith.

In essence, marriage equality will mean that each religious tradition has the right to be free of government interference, but does not have the power to impose itself on people of other faiths or no faith at all. This is what freedom of and freedom from religion under the First Amendment is all about.

Freedom from religion?

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states in part:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

There are two important statement of law:
1. Congress shall not establish a national religion.
2. Congress shall not prohibit the free exercise of religion.

There is no "freedom from religion" in the First Amendment.

Your definition of free is broken.

Free exercise of religion is hardly free if one is hindered from a course of action, like choosing to live without religion. That's like saying you have the freedom to speak your mind, and then penalizing those who remain silent.

Free exercise of religion is not a command to be religious, nor is it license to steamroll those who choose not to be.

Selective misreading

First of all, you are ignoring decades of jurisprudence if you think the 1st Amendment is only there to protect us from a "national religion."

Second, you might want to consider a fundamental principle of the state of Minnesota; viz. art. I sec. 16 of the Minnesota Constitution.

The Constitution

In the landmark 1971 decision of Lemon v. Kurtzman, the Supreme Court held that the establishment clause means far more than simply a prohibition of establishing a "national religion."

To wit, the three prongs of the "Lemon Test" are:

1.The government's action must have a secular legislative purpose;

2.The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;

3.The government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.

While navigating the space between the "free exercise" and the "establishment clause" of the First Amendment can be exceedingly difficult it is clear that a law whose primary purpose is to impose the doctrine of one particular faith or faiths on the rest of the people, and is without a secular purpose, would fall constitutionally short.

Moreover, returning more specifically to the issue of marriage equality, proponents of the existing marriage ban still need to account for the 14th Amendment’s prohibition on unequal treatment without at least a rational basis, let alone the heightened standard of review afforded to groups such as GLBT people who have been traditionally discriminated against.

Gay Marriage

I was in law enforcement for 21 years, I commented in another story in MN Post of how I thought it was ridiculous to think kids raised in gay marriage would be confused. That got me thinking about how wonderful marriage is and how many domestic calls I went on in 21 years. The number is so large I can't even begin to remember them all. Spousal abuse is not limited to any one class of people either, spousal abuse is classless, colorless, raceless, ageless, jobless, you name it. On any night here in the twin cities a whole bunch of happily married spouses are going to come home and beat the crap out of their spouse. It doesn't make any difference if they are a banker, doctor, janitor, unemployed, pastor, teacher or whatever, every night here in the Twin Cities and all over the US some loving spouse comes homes beats the living hell out of there loving spouse. I have seen it over a thousand times.