Marriage amendment is legislative session’s legacy, despite all the rhetoric about the budget and spending

Protesters and supports of the same-sex marriage ban amendment filled the Capitol corridors on Saturday night.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Protesters and supports of the same-sex marriage ban amendment filled the Capitol corridors on Saturday night.

Much to the chagrin of Republicans, it is the marriage amendment that will define the work of this legislative session.

The fact is, most legislative sessions end with budget tussles. It’s only the size of this deficit that makes this dollars-and-cents dispute different from earlier ones.

Like all of the other budget disputes, this one will be resolved and the budget will be balanced, although that’s not going to happen by midnight Monday and probably not anytime soon.

But what won’t be resolved long after this session is over is the fight over who, under the Constitution, can marry in Minnesota.

Prayer controversy, passionate speeches fill weekend
What won’t be forgotten about this session is the ugly prayer that was delivered Friday morning and the passionate speeches that were delivered Saturday night.

The prayer by a homophobic man was so ugly that House Speaker Kurt Zellers first denounced it and apologized for it. He then tried to have it expunged from the official record of the House by declaring a “reset” and noting that a quorum wasn’t on hand to hear Bradlee Dean’s remarks. A new prayer was delivered, and Dean’s presence was erased from the record so that in future years there would be no official record of what had happened.

On Sunday, though, DFLers ended the effort to erase reality by reading a resolution, signed by DFL legislators, into the record about Dean’s appearance.

“There are no do-overs,” said Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, adding that it was important for the record to reflect “the history of shame brought to this body” by Dean.

Zellers — and the Republican majority — accepted the resolution without comment.

But there were other moments, far more powerful, that followed Dean to the House.

The moment that most won’t forget is when Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, rose late Saturday night to speak against the marriage amendment.

Kriesel, whose legs were badly mangled in Iraq, was described by Zellers at the beginning of this session as “a rock star” of the Republican freshman class.

Kriesel offers powerful anti-amendment speech
And now, here he was, speaking out passionately against a key Republican action.

“If this was five or six years ago,” Kriesel said as he began his talk, “I probably would have voted ‘yes’ without really thinking about it.”

Then, Kriesel told a silent House about suffering his wounds, laying in the dirt, legs mangled, thinking of his wife and kids and doubting that he’d ever see them again.

Rep. John Kriesel on Army Spc. Andrew Wilfahrt: "Good enough to give his life for his country, but not good enough to marry the person he loved?"
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Rep. John Kriesel on Army Spc. Andrew Wilfahrt: “Good enough to give his life for his country, but not good enough to marry the person he loved?”

The thoughts of the people he loved, he said, made him fight for life.

“As bad as that day sucked,” he said, “it’s changed my life in good ways. What would I do without my wife?”

He talked of how it’s a hard world and “that happiness is so hard to find.” Why, he wondered, would legislators vote for something that would deny people who love each other the chance to marry?

“This amendment doesn’t represent what I went to fight for,” he said.

Before he spoke, Kriesel had made sure each legislator had received an 8 ½-by-11-inch copy of a photo of Army Spc. Andrew Wilfahrt in combat gear. The Minnesota man was killed in Afghanistan during the winter. He was gay.

Kriesel asked his colleagues to look at the picture and think about the young man’s death.

“Good enough to give his life for his country, but not good enough to marry the person he loved?” Kriesel asked.

The speech will not be forgotten by members of either party, although Republicans give off the feeling they’d like to forget it — and the marriage amendment. But they didn’t have the strength to turn down the most socially conservative portion of their base.

The Republicans “won” the vote 70-62. Two DFLers , Lyle Koener of Clara City and Denise Ditrrich of Champlin, voted with the Republican majority. Four Republicans voted against the amendment: Kriesel, Tim Kelly of Red Wing, Steve Smith of Mound and Rich Murray of Albert Lea.

And none of the Republicans seemed eager to talk about their action.

Speaker Zellers deflects amendment questions
On the day after this vote, for example, the House speaker tried to shut down questions about the marriage amendment.

“I’m focused on the budget,” said Zellers. “Talking about votes that are behind us is Monday morning quarterbacking.”

But of course, the consequences of this vote going forward are immense. Huge amounts will be spent on both sides of the issue on intense media campaigns.

Former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe predicted Sunday that “there will be economic impact” created by the vote. He predicted that conventions scheduled for Minneapolis, for example, will be canceled as a protest to the Legislature’s decision to make this a constitutional issue.

The one Republican who spoke in favor of the amendment on the floor Saturday night, Rep. Steve Gottwalt of St. Cloud, tried to downplay the significance of the “policy issue.”

“The big story of this session,” Gottwalt said, grandly, “is whether we [Republicans] can end the spending that is unsustainable.”
So if that was to be the story of the session, why did the caucuses add such an explosive issue as the marriage amendment into the mix at the last moment?

“We can do both as legislators,” he said.

Over and over, he referred to the marriage amendment as “a policy issue,” not a “morality issue.”

How’s that?

“It’s not a morality issue except for individuals,” Gottwalt said.

The key thing is to keep the discussion civil.

The House caucus decided to have only Gottwalt speak for the amendment — although one other legislator also did — to try to hold passions to a minimum.

“We want to emphasize respect,” said Gottwalt. “This amendment is about decency and respect, not about hate and prejudice.”

And it has become the defining issue of the session.

Budget impasse remains
As for that “other” issue, the budget . . .

Various Republican leaders met with Gov. Mark Dayton throughout the day and into the night Sunday.

The result of those meetings: nice conversations, but no move toward ending a stalemate.

Again, according to a number of members of the caucus, Republican leaders don’t have only a problem with Dayton. They’ve got just as big a problem with their own caucus.

The most fiscally conservative members of the caucus are upset that their leaders ever expressed willingness to spend $34 billion, which is $1.8 billion less than the governor’s bottom line. The hardnosed conservatives, a substantial block in the House caucus, came to St. Paul determined not to spend more than $31 billion or $32 billion.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Jeff Wilfahrt on 05/23/2011 - 10:20 am.

    “I have no race prejudice. I think I have no color prejudices or caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. Indeed, I know it. I can stand any society. All that I care to know is that a man is a human being — that is enough for me; he can’t be any worse.”
    Mark Twain

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/23/2011 - 10:42 am.

    I think you’ve got it wrong, Doug. I think the Republicans are DESPERATELY hoping that the gay marriage amendment will distract their rural base from paying any attention to their dysfonic,





    let-the-increasingly-unemployed-aging-baby-boomers-die-early-for-lack-of-medical-care (among other things)


    It’s the pickpocket, purse snatcher, equivalent of having your friends cause a ruckus to create a distraction while they take whatever they want from their “mark.”

    (Just a clue… anyone not making at least $200,000 in the State of Minnesota, IS their “mark.”)

  3. Submitted by Garrett Peterson on 05/23/2011 - 10:47 am.

    In addition to Rep. Kreisel, Tim Kelly also gave a strong speech against the amendment. He made his remarks early on in the night when debating whether or not to send the bill back to committee.

    And late in the night, Rod Hamilton (of Override Six fame)gave a very interesting speech about his personal struggle about the amendment (he ultimately voted for it). There seemed to be a lot of tension in the Republican caucus regarding the bill.

  4. Submitted by Donn Satrom on 05/23/2011 - 10:48 am.

    Given the GOP “passion” for this amendment, I doubt that “chagrin” properly describes their feelings now. Unfortunately, most of them seem to be proud that we will vote on this issue in 2012.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/23/2011 - 10:56 am.

    Doug, dude, you couldn’t be more wrong. This is NOT like any other legislative session that’s ending with a budget “tussle”. This has been and will be the most disfunctional legislative session possibly in the history of the state. Your attempt to place this within the context of a status quo with a single divisive amendment vote is both wrong headed and misleading. We had a legislature that was intent on imposing a radical agenda on the people of Minnesota from the very beginning. They were dishonest and duplicitous. I’m afraid media types like yourself who try to portray this as some kind of typical legislative session with a few quirks are completing distorting the record. I have to ask: why?

  6. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/23/2011 - 11:01 am.

    The threadbare “principles” of the Republicans is pretty clear. There is much effort expended in enshrining their religion-based beliefs on gays into the constitution even though there are a pitiful few mentions of it in the Bible. On the other hand, the multiple, obvious and plain speaking Biblical injunction to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the grieving, “do unto others..”, are sidelined because they will not ask the richest 2% for one penny more.

  7. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 05/23/2011 - 11:21 am.

    Recent polls (I don’t know if they are national polls or not.) are now favoring gay marriage for the first time.

    There’s a very good chance Minnesota’s will support gay marriage in November 2012.

  8. Submitted by Randi Reitan on 05/23/2011 - 11:46 am.

    I agree with comment #2. I will remember this marriage amendment as the Bradlee Dean Amendment. I will never forget sitting in the House gallery and watching my Representative – Jenifer Loon press the button to cast her vote against my gay son. I hope she never forgets it either.

  9. Submitted by David Lawler on 05/23/2011 - 11:47 am.

    There are things I need to know about this vote. Will same sex couples not have equal rights of married people? Will insuring their family from ones employer become illegal? Will there be overt discrimination of same sex couples? And how is it not a moral issue?

    Lots of gay people have fought and died for this country, even as they face discrimination.

    The “tyranny of the majority” is something we have been warned against a lot in our history. None of the social changes our country has been through would have passed by the vote of the people. It is why we have representatives make do the lawmaking.

    Lastly, Republicans do not seem to be working for our state or our country, and we are suffering because of it. Politics is about compromise and the challenge for any political party is to maintain their principles before and during and after votes when their party compromises, no side is totally happy, and we move on.

    Keep up the good work, folks.

  10. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 05/23/2011 - 12:04 pm.

    This was the worst legislative session in my 55 years. Republican leaders first lied to everyone by saying they were going to focus on jobs. Then they went on and didn’t create ONE SINGLE JOB. Then, they let their party chiefs tell them what they could and couldn’t do. Then they made up budget numbers and made them fit into an ideologically based non budget. Then they failed to follow their own rules. Then they didn’t let anyone but people who agreed with them have any time to speak and actually argued with people who came to speak. Then they dwelt on numerous divisive social issues instead of working on the stuff they were elected to do. Then the invited a hate monger to preach and scrubbed his name off of the record. This session cannot be described by anyone as anything but abject failure.

  11. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/23/2011 - 12:40 pm.

    Mark Dayton wanted to spend $38 billion, a whopping 25% increase in state spending! 25%!

    His compromise position is to “only” spend $34 billion, still a huge 10% increase, considering people who live in the real world haven’t had a raise in 2-3 years.

    The conservatives want to balance the budget by spending the same $31 billion as the last budget. Yet their position is being called extreme and unreasonable.

    If these choices were put on the ballot, any bets on how the people would decide?

    Oh, and regarding the constitutional amendment that defines marriage? Don’t be surprised if 70% of the people vote Yes, flooding the voting booths with church-goers like never before, also motivated by the Voter ID initiative.

    All in all, I’d say the democrat party took it on the chin in this session, in more ways than one.

  12. Submitted by David Lawler on 05/23/2011 - 01:44 pm.

    I would like to thank Rep. Kriesel for his comments and thoughts. One would think that would be enough. One might ask who all those others believe they are serving.

    We do not allow the citizenry to vote on things that are quite important, such as war or even baseball stadiums, and for good reason. We have a representative democracy, in part, to avoid what has been called the “tyranny of the majority,” however well intended.

    It is not clear to me if same sex partnerships will have fewer rights than traditionally married couples, such as insurance for spouses from the workplace, but if that is the case, that there will be true discrimination, this will be overturned in court, also for good reason.

    Most of us no longer have to serve in the military in times of war, so our freedom is really free for most of us. We should remember how much it costs for us to be free.

  13. Submitted by Gail O'Hare on 05/23/2011 - 01:51 pm.

    I have to agree with Greg and Paul: you’re being too lenient. These idealogues are unlike anything we’ve seen before.

    Because amending the Constitution is a profoundly political act, I hope the ACLU will sue to end all exemptions for churches. No exclusions, no tax deductions for contributions. Archbishop Nienstadt made this his cause last summer and should have been stopped then. It’s time to examine all benefits our outmoded tax code has bestowed on churches.

    Yes, I know many churches do not support the amendment. But the Catholic church has so egregiously overstepped the line between church and state that I see no recourse.

    Freedom and justice for all.

  14. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 05/23/2011 - 02:23 pm.

    Doug writes: “…the (Republicans) didn’t have the strength to turn down the most socially conservative portion of their base….The Republicans “won” the vote 70-62.”

    Hey, why the quotes? The Republicans absolutely won this vote. It didn’t just “happen.” Repubs had to work hard to bring it to the floor and put it up to a vote.

    As to whether GOP legislators had “the strength” to resist their conservative base:

    a)The GOP legislators are big boys and girls. They could have “resisted” their conservative base. They chose not to.

    b) This is the same conservative base that these same legislators woo all the time with their various dog whistles. I don’t think there’s much of a “gap” between the conservative base and Republican legislators any more. I’m not even sure there was ever much of a gap to begin with.

    c) This amendment is going on the 2012 ballot in order to inspire the supposedly feared conservative base to go to the polls…which the Repubs are going to need since the 2012 presidential race is going to be like Bob Dole taking on Bill Clinton–i.e. not a close or inspiring contest. Klobuchar won’t be in a close race either. So how to inspire GOP voters to turn out given they’ll probably be looking at a losing ticket in the big races in 2012? Nothing rallies a Republican base like a good Orwellian Two Minutes Hate. Hence, the amendment to ban gay marriage.

  15. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/23/2011 - 03:45 pm.

    Dennis Tester (#12)….Don’t be surprised if 70% of the people vote Yes, flooding the voting booths with church-goers like never before…

    You must have not been listening to the testimony, hearings or comments, because a significant portion of “church-goers” will vote “No”.

  16. Submitted by will lynott on 05/23/2011 - 05:23 pm.

    Dennis Tester #12–here’s newsflash: you’re out of touch. The republicans have agreed to spend $34 million, not $31 million. Sorry to break your toy.

    Another news flash–the word “Democrat” is a noun, not an adjective. Get someone to look it up for you.

  17. Submitted by Steve Bishoff on 05/23/2011 - 05:16 pm.

    I don’t understand why conservatives are against gay marriage. First it is a matter of the individual rights they are always talking about. Second, why are conservatives promoting gay promiscuity? Wouldn’t monogamy be better?

  18. Submitted by Nancy Gertner on 05/23/2011 - 05:41 pm.

    “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15, NKJV.

    Whom do you serve? We can ask our legislators, they were elected to serve us. If they say they were “voting their conscience,” we can ask them what Gods they serve.

    It appears to me the Majority of the State Legislators have ears that do not hear, and hearts that are stone.

    Their failure to invite citizens and leaders of state departments to give testimony on impacts of budget slashing also reveals their non-functioning ears and their stone hearts. I have found it a waste of time to attend most committee meetings and hearings at the Capitol and State Office Building this year.

    The highlight of the Legislative Session for me was when Secretary of State Mark Ritchie hosted Civil War Sesquicentennial Day, which commemorated the great sacrifice made by over 24,000 Minnesotans that volunteered to fight to preserve the Union 150 years ago. How sad for Minnesota when we have to look so far into the past to find the time when Minnesotans honored their people and the veterans that sacrificed so much to serve their fellow citizens, and were committed to investing in their state and its people.

  19. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 05/23/2011 - 11:12 pm.

    Jeremy Powers wrote: “Then they went on and didn’t create ONE SINGLE JOB.”

    It is not the duty of the legislature to create jobs. Legislature has the power to write and pass laws. Individuals and corporations “create” jobs by employing workers in their businesses.

  20. Submitted by Joe Carlin on 05/24/2011 - 01:58 am.

    @Dennis #12: My neighbor grew up in the same small town in Northern Minnesota. She’s a devout Catholic, pro-life, can’t possibly believe we descended from apes, and she and her family attend mass every Sunday. And she can’t wait for November 2012 to get here fast enough to vote NO on this amendment. Marriage belongs in the law, not the constitution. And the government has absolutely no business discriminating against its citizens, not in the law, and especially not in the constitution. We both were taught to know right from wrong and this is just flat out wrong.

  21. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 05/28/2011 - 09:58 pm.

    Mr. Carlin:

    This constitutional amendment is to prevent some enterprising post-modernist lawyer in a black robe from issuing an edict.

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