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Same-sex marriage opponents, wary of bills that they believe would open the door to gay unions in Minnesota, said Tuesday that they are introducing a state constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Activists, legislators and religious leaders representing Christian, Muslim and Jewish congregations said at a news conference organized by the Minnesota Family Council that such an amendment -- which would need ratifying by voters -- is the only way to block changes in the status of marriage sought by legislators or same-sex couples launching court challenges.
"This is not a political issue, or an issue of choice or rights. It is an issue of life," said Andre Dukes, pastor of Shiloh Temple church in Minneapolis.
A constitutional amendment, said Rep. Dan Severson, R-Sauk Rapids, one of the sponsors, would "allow the people of Minnesota to vote on this very important issue ... and let them decide."
But Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said the amendment contains "unfamily values" and stands no chance of passing in the House or Senate. Opinion is changing so rapidly in Minnesota that a bill legalizing same-sex marriage could pass in three or four years, he said.
Marty is chief Senate author of the Marriage and Family Protection Act, which would make the state's marriage laws gender-neutral by replacing "a man and a woman" with "two persons" and removing from the list of prohibited marriages those between people of the same sex. The bill has not yet gotten a hearing.
Other bills this session would recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states and replace marriage with civil union contracts.
It's that kind of legislation, said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, that makes the marriage amendment necessary. "Not only is this an assault on the traditional definition of marriage, this is an assault on all religious beliefs in the state of Minnesota," he said.
Same-sex marriage opponents have unsuccessfully promoted a similar amendment three times this decade.
Although prospects for passage in the DFL-dominated Legislature would appear dim, Minnesota Family Council president Tom Prichard said that his group feels the issue should be raised this year and that it's in it for the long haul.
Prichard said a constitutional amendment "is our only recourse" against not just the Legislature but an activist court. He said he expects lawsuits filed by same-sex couples who were recently denied marriage licenses in Hennepin County.
Minnesota law has defined marriage as solely between a man and a woman since 1997, a year after the federal Defense of Marriage Act forbade recognizing same-sex marriages for the purpose of federal benefits such as Social Security.