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Marriage amendment foes say 'Vote No!'

Reverend Steve Schmit, left, Deb Peterson and Chaplain Mark Papke-Larson listen to a testimony during a round table discussion on Wednesday evening at a "Vote No" rally presented by the Minnesota United for All Families Coalition. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- Nearly 150 members of the Bemidji community gathered to show their unity in opposition of the proposed amendment that would ban same-sex couples from marrying in Minnesota.

"We must say a resounding 'NO' to the proposed constitutional amendment that would, for all intents and purposes, end any meaningful discussion about extending the wonders of the marital relationship to all members of our society," the Rev. Steve Schmit of St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church said at Wednesday evening's Vote No! Community Kickoff at Bemidji State University.

The rally, which was organized with the help of Minnesotans United for All Families, drew people from around the community to organize efforts to defeat the proposed marriage amendment that will be on the ballot in November.

The amendment states, "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?"

For many of the rally's supporters, the amendment would bring a halt to productive discussion of same-sex marriage.

"I think it is just ridiculous that this is even an issue," Dean Brooks, Bemidji resident and former member of Bemidji State University's Phoenix group, which promotes gay rights. "We need to put our voices out there to defeat this."

According to Andy Mundt, the regional organizing director for Minnesotans United for All Families, to defeat the amendment, Minnesota needs 1.45 million of its 2.9 million voters to vote no when filing their ballots in November.

Mundt said 30 states have had similar amendments, all of which passed, a trend he hopes stops in Minnesota.

"I am involved in this campaign because no one ever again is ever going to tell me that I do not have the freedom to create and protect my family," he said.

Mundt said one of the things the Minnesota Vote No campaign needs to focus on is talking about gay people, something other states have ignored. He said the campaigns have focused on equality, civil rights, discrimination and the sanctity of the Constitution.

He said the opponents to gay marriage, those who will vote yes on the amendment, argue that gay marriage threatens the religious freedom for the children of same-sex partners, and argue that gay and lesbian communities already have the right to civil unions and domestic partnerships.

For Bemidji resident Candy Roberts-Salter and her partner, Mary Roberts-Salter, civil unions are not enough. The two have gone through three different phases of marriage, with the civil union process, a commitment ceremony for the two of them and then a ceremony with friends and family. But even after all of that, Candy Roberts-Salter said something is missing.

"We want to work towards allowing people like Mary and I to marry in the legal sense," Roberts-Salter said. "Part of that is important to us because for our two boys it is important that they hear the same positive message about what a family is as other kids."

The Rev. Linnea Papke-Larson, a local Lutheran pastor who spoke at Wednesday's rally, said marriage is a foundation of God's intention in creating people who inherently seek others. She said the human desire for connection, no matter what sexual orientation, is aligned with what people cherish spiritually.

"To affirm those who wish to commit to one another in lifelong relationships, regardless of their sexual orientation, is actually a very socially conservative thing to do," Papke-Larson said. "It serves to keep families and relationships intact, it holds people accountable to their public vows, it helps people to settle down and to publically acknowledge relationships, and it offers legal protections for families."

The rally brought out people who would be directly affected by the passing of the amendment, but also drew people like Betty Christ and Barry Yocol, who support voting no to the amendment just by principle.

"We are voting no on the amendment because we believe in fairness, justice, equality and non-discrimination," Christ said.

"I think it's outrageous that we're trying to legislate to a constitutional amendment the definition of marriage," Yocol said. "It's already illegal to Minnesota law, and this would just put it out of reach."

Arielle Schnur, Minnesotans United for All Families community organizer for north central Minnesota, said the campaign will continue to hold events. She said anyone interested in volunteering in any way can contact her at