Emotions ran high Friday in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, as nearly 600 people crowded into a community center to debate the issue of same-sex marriage.
Following four hours of testimonies, the House Civil Law and Elections Committee passed a bill to ban same-sex marriage in the state. Authored by Representative Dan Severson (R-Sauk Rapids), the bill will amend the state constitution by adding a definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The amendment also prohibits the recognition of any other types of unions between same-sex individuals.
The House Committee consists of seven Republicans and five Democrats, who voted along party lines on Friday, resulting in a 7 to 5 majority in favor of the amendment.
A diversity of people and groups representing both sides of the issue spoke at the hearing. Opponents criticized the bill as discriminatory and called upon the legislators to uphold equality of rights for all citizens.
Reverend Mike Carlson, a Lutheran minister, spoke against the bill, saying that many youth have committed suicide because of their struggles with sexual orientation and the views of society.
Others questioned the need for the amendment, citing Minnesotas 1996 Defense of Marriage Act as sufficient protection for marriage. In response to concerns that DOMA may be challenged by activist judges, Representative John Lesch (D- St. Paul) asked, Who are the activist judges we are talking about?
Supporters of the bill focused on family and children. Reverend Dan Domke, a Lutheran minister who supports the ban, said, Without marriage, we lose families and we lose communities.
Rep. Severson argued that it is crucial Minnesota adopt this amendment, citing the danger of activist judges who can overturn the states existing laws. The most recent case occurred last week when a California judge ruled that laws banning same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.
Severson stated, What homosexuals are seeking is not access to marriage. They want to change the fundamental definition of marriage.
Republican committee members expressed their support for the bill, saying that the issue should be decided by the people of Minnesota.
The bill will now move to the House Ways and Means Committee. Approval by both the House and the Senate is required before the issue can be placed on the ballot for a public vote. The earliest statewide referendum would take place in 2006.