Gay marriage opponents renew call for amendment

ST. PAUL -- Wayne Cook remembers being told by a leading Democratic lawmaker that state law already prohibits same-sex marriage and could withstand legal challenges.

ST. PAUL -- Wayne Cook remembers being told by a leading Democratic lawmaker that state law already prohibits same-sex marriage and could withstand legal challenges.

That didn't ease Cook's concerns.

"It seemed like he was trying to assure people that it wasn't necessary," Cook, of Willmar, said of remarks he recalls Sen. Dean Johnson saying before a group of pastors in December. "It didn't convince me."

The pastor of a nondenominational church, Cook was among roughly 1,000 people who rallied Tuesday for a proposal to let voters decide whether same-sex marriage should be prohibited in the State Constitution.

Supporters of a gay marriage ban renewed their call on Johnson and other lawmakers to put the issue in the hands of Minnesota voters. The Republican-led House passed the bill last year. The DFL-controlled Senate has not voted on it; attempts Monday to bring the bill to the floor for a vote were blocked. Johnson said it will receive a committee hearing this session.


In a series of speeches, religious leaders told the crowd gathered outside the Capitol that traditional marriage between one man and one woman is under attack. They said consequences will arise if same-sex couples are allowed to marry.

"We are opening the door to untold destructive evils for our next generation," the Rev. Wes Wheatley told the group.

No legislators - including bill author Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater - spoke at the rally. In past years lawmakers backing the amendment have addressed supporters.

Sponsored by the pro-amendment Minnesota for Marriage group, the rally took place as the marriage issue has gathered attention at the Capitol. Johnson, of Willmar, recently apologized for remarks he made about the Supreme Court and the gay marriage issue at a January pastors' meeting. He later received a vote of confidence from his caucus members, even as the state's chief justice suggested Johnson didn't talk about the issue with any members of the court.

The pastor who secretly taped Johnson's comments also joined with gay marriage opponents at the rally. Brent Waldemarsen, of Harvest Community Church of God in Willmar, said the issue has been made political by some who don't want it on the November ballot.

"It's being dealt with politically, but it's a moral issue," Waldemarsen said.

Amendment opponents argue that a constitutional ban on gay marriage is discriminatory. They claim the issue was already settled when the existing law was passed in 1997, and that it's led to new levels of divisiveness.

Waldemarsen rejected that, saying the effort to define marriage as between one man and one woman has united many faith groups. Their message is simple, he said.


"It was loud and clear. We want to vote. Period," he said.

Amendment supporters gathered two days before opponents of the gay marriage ban hold their own rally at the Capitol. That event Thursday also will focus on religious leaders.

"This interfaith rally is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate that many religious people in Minnesota oppose the effort to enshrine discrimination in our Constitution," said Ann DeGroot, executive director of the gay-rights organization OutFront Minnesota.

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