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Continued: GOP Minnesota legislator preparing to co-sponsor gay marriage bill

Petersen said be believes his support will clear the way for other Republicans to join him in voting to legalize same-sex marriage.

“I know there are other Republicans who are very interested in supporting same-sex marriage,” he said.

Petersen, 27, admits this is a wrenching issue for him and could be politically damaging back home. His father-in-law has been in a same-sex relationship for nearly 20 years, but Petersen says this issue has fiercely divided his family in the same way it has split the rest of the state. He started discussing the issue with colleagues, his pastor and close friends before taking his public stance.

The first-term senator, who previously served as a House member, said he knows his position could cost him his seat. Residents in his district narrowly voted in favor of the marriage amendment in November. But as one of the most reliably conservative voters in the Legislature, Petersen said he believes voters in his district will find comfort in his record against taxes, his unwavering defense of the right to bear arms and his overriding belief in personal freedom.

“They are generally not single-issue voters,” he said. “But if push came to shove and that’s the way it had to be, then I am fine with that.”

Lobbying push is on

Legislators on both sides of the marriage issue are about to face enormous pressure on the issue. Lobbyists from both camps are racing between legislators’ offices, trying to see who is onboard with them and who is not.

Same-sex marriage supporters “spent a lot of time and a lot of money telling people that the constitutional amendment was unnecessary because there was actually a statutory law defining marriage,” said Autumn Leva, lobbyist for Minnesota for Marriage, which is trying to block same-sex marriage. “Now we see that same group is trying to push for a change in the law, and Minnesotans are very hesitant on that. They say, ‘Wait, wait, wait. I voted no on the amendment, but I didn’t vote to change the law.’ ”

Legislative leaders on both sides of the issue are doing a delicate political dance right now, neither lambasting the idea nor guaranteeing its passage.

DFL legislative leaders are not saying they plan to be crusading voices on the issue. Republicans who fought to get the marriage issue on the ballot and then lost their majorities are showing similar caution.

“If I had to vote in the next five minutes, I’d vote no,” said Sen. David Senjem, a Rochester Republican who is a former Senate majority leader. “I can’t imagine I would change my mind, but it’s a new day. You keep your options open, I guess.”

 

baird.helgeson@startribune.com 651-925-5044

rachel. stassen-berger@startribune.com Twitter: @rachelsb

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  • Before signing on a co-sponsor of the bill to legalize gay marriage, state Sen. Branden Petersen outlined several concerns in the measure.

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