The GOP sweep in Minnesota last fall was a mile wide and an inch deep. A switch of a few hundred votes in a few key districts would have left the house and senate in Democratic hands. Republicans won on promises to balance the budget, limit taxes and spending, and make the state more business-friendly. Social issues were almost totally absent from the campaign. Nevertheless, a constitutional amendment excluding gay couples and their families from marriage has been making its way quickly through the Minnesota legislature. If approved, it would go on the ballot in November 2012 in a popular referendum, where it would have to get a majority of all votes cast in a high turnout year. It had seemed the amendment would sail through the state legislature. But now it faces rising Republican opposition.
The GOP objectors publicly known so far include a state senator who voted in committee to table the amendment on Friday. Last year, she called an anti-gay marriage amendment “a sword to hurt people, to identify people as different and create disparities.”
Also opposed is a GOP house member, a veteran who lost his legs in Iraq. He has publicly said that he “learned the hard way” that you only live once and it’s important to find someone you love. He called the proposed amendment “just wrong,” and declared, “There is not anything that can move me on this.” Apparently, if you’ve faced death in combat, the prospect of a primary opponent doesn’t intimidate you.
Other Republican legislators have questioned the need to constitionalize the issue. At the very least, there is considerable doubt about pushing it right now in the middle of a budget battle with the Democratic governor — it’s a distraction from the party’s core message and agenda. The amendment could be taken up next year and still appear on the 2012 ballot.
In this morning’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune, former Bush White House Counsel and a colleague of mine, Richard Painter, makes the Republican case against a proposed amendment banning same-sex marriage. Painter opposes the amendment as a matter of principle, good politics, and business:
Minnesota marriage laws have been well-settled for a long time. Marriages must be between a man and a woman. There is no indication that state courts will wade into this area and legislate from the bench, and there is very little chance that the Minnesota Supreme Court would allow them to do so. . . .
Furthermore, the proposed amendment would force Minnesotans to engage in a divisive debate over a ballot measure. That debate would be particularly damaging for Republicans, who are divided on this issue.
The debate would also be costly and might encourage outside organizations to pour money into Minnesota — not only to defeat the ballot measure but to defeat Republican candidates. . . .
Yet another danger is the damage this ballot measure could inflict on our economy. At present, Minnesota does not stand out among states that do not allow same-sex marriage.
We are not viewed as “homophobic” because we refuse to change existing law. If, however, we ask all Minnesotans to vote on the definition of marriage in 2012, it is certain that one side or the other will be dissatisfied with the result.
Companies with employees who feel strongly on this issue will not want to locate here.
At a time when many Minnesotans are unemployed and business owners are struggling with lagging sales and rising costs, we do not need a ballot measure on a divisive social issue that drives people away from our state.
Minnesota should send the message that we are open for business — that we are open to all people — and that we are serious about promoting the interests of businesses and their employees. This ballot measure does exactly the opposite.
If the issue reaches the floor of either the house or senate it would likely happen this coming week.