Same-Sex Marriage Proposal Carries Risks for Both Sides, Local Legislators Say
A bill authored by Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL) would define marriage as a union between two people—rather than a union between a man and a woman.
District 57A Rep. Tara Mack (R) wasn't surprised when Democrats unveiled a bill permitting same-sex marriage in Minnesota in late February, but the second-term legislator was certainly disappointed.
Last year, Democrats accused Republicans of neglecting budget problems while they pushed a divisive social agenda, Mack said. Now, it appears that Democrats are doing the same thing, she added, despite an estimated $627 million budget deficit.
Mack isn't the only Dakota County legislator who had plenty to say about the same-sex marriage bill, which was authored by District 61 Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL) and introduced last Thursday. The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary committee, but legislators believe it will likely be voted on later this session. A similar proposal was introduced in the House of Representatives on the same day.
"We’re at a point of history here, and I think most people would like to be on the right side of history," said District 51 Sen. Jim Carlson (DFL), who supporrts Dibble's proposal. "My wife and I have been married for 43 years, and we’ve never felt threatened by any else's marriage."
Regardless of their personal stance or political affiliation, some Dakota County legislators felt the bill—which will likely prove as controversial and headline-grabbing as last fall's marriage amendment—posed potential risks for both parties.
Democrats' support for the bill might put them at odds with a more conservative electorate in rural districts, according to a recent report in the Star Tribune. On the other side of the aisle, at least one urban Republicant legislator, District 35 Sen. Brandon Petersen became the first GOP member to announce his support for the proposal.
"There’s a risk in every vote that we take," said District 52A Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL), who supports the measure. "I think that members will vote their conscience; it may have a political consequence to them."
Hansen and other legislators, including District 58A Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R), say a portion of the electorate that voted against the marriage amendment on limited government or constitutional grounds may be alienated by the Democrats' quick push for the legalization of same-sex marriage.
"For those that voted 'no' on the amendment who don’t support gay marriage, feel like the whole advertising campaign was based around a discussion and an assurance that nothing would change if you voted no, but here we are four months later," Holberg said.
Many of the county's northern urban centers were solidly in favor of the marriage amendment last fall; only 39 percent of voters in Eagan favored the amendment, for example. But in communities like Lakeville, Farmington and Apple Valley, the vote was closely divided.
Which means legislators like Mack are watching their constiuents closely.
"I always stop and think about my district and what the people have sent me here to do," said Mack, who believes in a traditional definition of marriage. "I don’t think the failure of the [marriage] amendment is necessarily a commentary on Minnesota's readiness to move forward on the issue of gay marriage."
For now, legislators must focus on the budget debate, Hansen said. But when that issue is settled, expect the attention to swing back to the marriage debate, he added.