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Pioneer Editorial: Ruling brings balance to same-sex ban

A decision Thursday by New York's highest court hopefully should restore some balance to what has become a hot-button issue in Minnesota politics -- the push for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages.

The New York Court of Appeals, that state's highest court, ruled 4-2 that the state's law allowing marriage between a man and a woman was constitutional. The ruling counters that of Massachusetts' high court, which in 2003 ruled that gay marriages were a constitutional right, and gave rise to marriages of same-sex couples in states with no laws.

Since the Massachusetts ruling, about a dozen states have approved constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, and 19 now outlaw it. In total, 45 states have barred same-sex marriage through either constitutional amendments or statutes. There is now a push in Massachusetts for a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

The Minnesota House last year passed a measure which would have placed on this fall's ballot a constitutional amendment question permanently defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The measure, however, has been constantly sidetracked in the Minnesota Senate, short of a floor vote. It has become a contentious issue, and one that threatens to overshadow this fall's election by taking a high spot on an agenda that should rather focus on how the state should frame tax and spend policies, provide public safety and education, and for the public welfare.

Minnesota, however, has on the books its Defense of Marriage Act which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and it has already passed court muster.

Thursday's New York high court decision affirms the right of the Legislature to make such laws, not subject to "activist judges" as conservatives fear. The court said any change in the state's law should come from the state Legislature, Judge Robert Smith wrote. The decision said lawmakers have a legitimate interest in protecting children by limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. It went on to say the law does not deny homosexual couples any "fundamental right" since same-sex marriages are not "deeply rooted in the nation's history and tradition."

As there are no cases seeking to create same-sex marriage pending in Minnesota courts, and no legislation that we know of being offered to repeal DOMA, the clarion call for a constitutional amendment seems groundless at this time in Minnesota, and should not become a defining issue for the fall campaign.