Committee hears gay marriage debate

Published 3:56 pm Tuesday, March 12, 2013

ST. PAUL — A mother’s voice tearfully trembled as she spoke of seeing her gay son marry one day. A child plainly asked Minnesota lawmakers: “Which parent do I not need, my mom or my dad?”

So went the dueling testimony Tuesday as the Legislature began formal consideration of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. Votes in House and Senate committees were expected later in the day, but final legislative action could still be months away as lawmakers deal with the state budget first.

The Associated Press polled members of the two committees last week and found the measure was sure to pass the House panel and likely to prevail in the Senate committee.

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The public comments — delivered two minutes at a time — had a familiar ring in a Capitol where the definition of marriage has been a source of friction for at least 10 years. Only this time, the legislation speaks to allowing gay marriage instead of permanently barring it. In November, voters rejected a constitutional amendment to fortify an existing definition of Minnesota marriage as between one man and one woman.

A parade of pastors, doctors, business executives, children and gay couples weighed in on both sides.

Randi Reitan sat next to her husband of 40 years and their son Jacob, who came out as gay 15 years ago. She told the House Civil Law Committee that the time for gay marriage had come.

“We want Jacob to have the joy of a wedding, the firm foundation a marriage brings to families and the societal support that comes with all marriage,” she said.

Jacob Reitan spoke of watching as his three siblings got married and hoping for the chance to do the same. “As a gay man I should have the same opportunity to marry as my three siblings,” he said. “My desire to love is no less valid and no less worthy of recognition by our state as theirs.”

But opponents of same-sex marriage were equally forceful in their defense of the current law, saying change would undermine society’s family structure.

Grace Evans, 11, said children learn different things from parents of different genders and that’s why “God made it that way.”

Evans said her mother “is my role model on how to be a girl and I love her very much. My dad is also very important to me because he protects me and helps me get the confidence to be a girl who is growing up to be a woman. He takes care of me in a way my mom cannot.”

Staring into the eyes of legislators, Evans twice asked which she could do without. She got no answer.

The testimony followed a back-and-forth pattern. When a bill supporter told lawmakers that the current bar on gay marriage was nothing more than bullying, an opponent quickly rebutted it by saying a “no” vote shouldn’t be regarded as homophobic.

Foes of the bill said last year’s vote on to defeat the constitutional amendment shouldn’t be taken as a license to swing 180-degrees and enact gay marriage.

“It is not the will of the people,” said Rev. Gus Booth of the Warroad Community Church. “Before the election we were told we could vote against the marriage amendment and nothing would change. We were told that if the amendment was defeated our marriage laws wouldn’t change and same-sex marriage would remain illegal. We now know that we were sold a false bill of goods.”

The bill’s sponsor Rep. Karen Clark argued the referendum was an affirmation that Minnesotans see gay couples as equal members of society and should be afforded rights others have. “In Minnesota, we don’t turn our backs on family,” said Clark, a lesbian.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he would sign the bill if the Democratic-led Legislature sends it to him. Same-sex weddings could begin in August. Gay marriage is legal in nine U.S. states and under consideration in others.