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Gay marriage, redistricting among late-session issues

ST. PAUL -- Demonstrators lined the halls near the House chamber Thursday, making noise for both sides of the gay-marriage debate.

The noise was so loud that it forced the House doorkeeper to keep massive doors closed so representatives debating bills could hear what was going on. At times, the noise still filtered into the chamber.

Demonstrators came to the Capitol anticipating a House vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the public to define marriage as between one man and one woman. The effect of the proposed constitutional amendment would be to ban gay marriages.

A House vote could come as early as today, with lawmakers facing a Monday deadline to adjourn for the year. Senators already approved the measure, so a House vote would send it directly to the ballot.

There is little doubt the amendment will pass the Republican-controlled House, but not everyone in the GOP agrees with it.

"I see this as overreaching into personal choice," Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said in the back of the House chamber, with chants easily heard from the hallway. "It borders on prejudice and discrimination."

Kelly is a member of House leadership, but said his party members have not pressured him to vote for the amendment.

Kelly and Rep. John Kriesel of Cottage Grove are the only two Republicans to say they will oppose the amendment.

"I don't care in there who's supporting it and who's not," Kriesel said, pointing to the House chamber during a recent interview, "but I know that I can't in my heart."

That was not the case until recently, Kriesel said.

"I think about the things I vote on," Kriesel said. "I thought about it and thought: I love my wife more than anything. She makes me happy; I couldn't imagine life without her. So I don't see how I could ever vote to take that away from someone else. I don't care if it's two men, two women - I just don't care."

Kelly and some lawmakers think they need to focus on budget issues, not social matters like the amendment.

One is Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, who previously voted to put the measure on the ballot, - those efforts languished in a divided Legislature. "I'm really not in tune with the whole marriage amendment discussion and really don't think we should be dealing with that right now," he said.

Also on Thursday, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton Thursday vetoed Republican-written plans to redraw state legislative and federal congressional districts.

Earlier, he said that he would not sign any redistricting plan -- or other election-related bills -- without broad bipartisan support. The redistricting plans left the House and Senate on mostly party-line votes.

In a letter to lawmakers, Dayton said that he had warned them that he would not approve a redistricting plan drawn "for the purpose of protecting or defeating incumbents." Dayton said the U.S. House plan creates safe seats for six of the state's eight congressmen. The legislative plan, he said, appears to favor Republicans.

The U.S. Supreme Court requires legislative and congressional districts to be redrawn every 10 years to make sure all districts are the same size.

Dayton told reporters he would veto another election-related bill, one requiring voters to show photo in identification before casting ballots. Like redistricting votes, photo ID bills have not received strong bipartisan support.

Scott Wente of the South Washington County Bulletin contributed to this story. Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.