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Minnesota House committee approves anti-gay marriage amendment

Along party lines, the House Civil Law Committee passed a bill Monday to put a constitutional amendment that would restrict marriage in Minnesota to one man and one woman before voters. In a hearing in which religious leaders far outnumbered legal testifiers, emotions ran high as the father of a gay soldier killed in Afghanistan appealed to veterans to oppose the amendment.

The committee heard several hours of testimony, including that of Bishop Bob Battle of the Berean Church of God in Christ. Battle said, “I don’t consider gay marriages as the same as whites not being allowed to marry blacks.”

“Gay marriage advocates have attempted to hijack the civil rights movement,” he said. “I know what civil rights are, and gays in America have all the civil rights as anyone else.”

He pointed out the right to vote, the right to housing, the right to employment and “the right to ride in the front of the bus.”

Despite that testimony, 40 states currently allow discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Battle added, “God gave marriage as a gift to Adam and Eve.”

On the other side, Jeff Wilfarht used his time in front of the community not to rally the support of legislators but to urge veterans to oppose the amendment. His son, Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt, died in an attack in Afghanistan and was an openly gay man before he enlisted (and, despite “don’t ask don’t tell,” was open with his unit, according to his family).

Wilfarht told the committee that he realized none of the supporters of the amendment would change their minds, so he appealed to the veterans of Minnesota to oppose the amendment.

“Veterans living in Minnesota are not going to take kindly to tampering with the constitution they fight to defend,” he said, “with an iron-clad exclusion and removal of a civil right to a minority group.”

“The constitution is being toyed with. There are shenanigans afoot.”

While testifiers in support of the amendment repeated that marriage has had the same definition for all of history, some members of the DFL had problems with that revisionism.

“The definition of marriage used to be about property: Me, as property passed from my father to my husband,” said Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Minneapolis. “The definition of civil marriage has evolved over time — and thank God it has.”

She added, “I appeal to you not to put the question of fundamental civil rights to a majority vote.”

Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, said that just like other hot-button-issue ballot measure of the past, such as abortion, the proposed amendment will not stand the test of time.

“Members you know that this is a hot issue before the voters today, and maybe it’ll get you some votes in the election a year and a half from now,” he said. “This thing is going to end up getting repealed, just like Prohibition.”

Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, said this appears like an attempt to “enshrine religious beliefs” into the Minnesota Constitution, especially considering almost all the testifiers in support were religious leaders.

“I’m Jewish. Eating pork or shellfish is not allowed in my tradition, but I would never ask the government to impose that on our fellow citizens.”

He got down to brass tacks with the committee members. “How much of homosexuality is nature versus nurture? Is this just another lifestyle choice like skateboarding or gardening?”

He referenced a testifier who said “sexuality and sexual orientation are a gift from God.” He said, “I think that’s true, and I would ask everyone on this committee, if that’s true, if it’s even possibly true, what does that do to the moral force of your argument?”

He continued, “How many more gay people does God have to create before we ask ourselves if God actually wants them around?”

That question generated shouts of approval and applause from the crowd gathered in the committee room.

“I truly believe that in a generation, if we pass this, that generation and maybe sooner will judge us all very harshly,” he concluded.

The bill passed the committee along party lines by a vote of 10 to 7.

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