Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Recognizing the inevitable

With each passing day, the issue of same-sex marriage is becoming more and more a bipartisan issue. As someone who opposes gay marriage, even I acknowledge that it is likely to become the law of the land due to the fact it is (rightly or wrongly) being spun as a civil rights issue.

In the 2012 campaign season, a good number of DFL legislators ran on the chanting point of the Republicans "denying people the right to marry who they love" since the majority of GOP lawmakers voted to allow the public an opportunity to permanently ban gay marriage. Now that the Democrats hold a majority in the legislature, they could easily pass a law legalizing same-sex marriage because Governor Mark Dayton has already gone on record saying he'd sign such a bill. However, the DFL did not step forward in the first month of the legislative session despite the urging of gay marriage proponents. With that being the case, I said in this very space three weeks ago that a Republican legislator should step up to the plate and submit a proposal legalizing same-sex marriage. If for no other reason it would serve the purpose of putting the DFL on the record after they jumped around like poo-flinging monkeys, implying the GOP was a bigoted party used the issue as a cudgel against Republicans this past election cycle. So if the measure was shot down on a floor vote or thwarted in committee, it would prove what I have long suspected. That is, the DFL has no real interest in solving the issue because it's valuable to them as a proverbial bloody shirt.

With that in mind, could it be that my own state Senator is reading my blog?

Republican state Sen. Branden Petersen is preparing to become a co-sponsor of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota.

Having a Republican co-author would be an enormous political coup for same-sex marriage advocates as they prepare to unveil their proposal in the days ahead. Petersen would become the first Republican legislator to publicly support same-sex marriage, highlighting the rapidly changing dynamics of the issue at the Capitol.

“At this point, I am concerned about doing the right thing,” said Petersen, an Andover resident who is married and has two young children. “I have a certain amount of peace about that, and I will let the chips fall where they may.”

Petersen was among a majority of Republican legislators who put a state constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot asking voters to add language banning same-sex marriage. Minnesota became the first state to defeat such an amendment after 30 others had passed similar measures; that result gave opponents what they say is significant momentum to return and try to erase the state’s long-standing law against same-sex marriage.
There's been a couple of schools of thought on Sen. Petersen's maneuver. For one, this isn't exactly a courageous move, given that the voters spoke loudly this past November by shooting down the marriage amendment by a 5% margin. That, and when Petersen was in the House two years ago it would have shown more courage had he stood in solidarity with his four GOP colleagues who voted "no" on the amendment itself.

Personally, I find myself in the group who believes this was the exact opposite of political expediency and thus took a tremendous amount of courage. The particular Senate District which Petersen represents (SD35, which covers my hometown of Ramsey as well as Andover, Anoka and three precincts in Coon Rapids) is one of the more reliably conservative districts in the state of Minnesota. Plus, this was one of the SDs where the majority of residents voted in favor of the marriage amendment, a fact of which the Senator is fully aware. I'll come back to that.

While I see Sen. Petersen's maneuver as one of getting this issue off the table so we can focus on economic issues, he's not willing to cede the marriage issue entirely.

Petersen said he has several concerns that must be addressed before he will sign onto the measure. He wants to add language guaranteeing that any religious leader can choose not to wed same-sex couples. He also insists that kids in same-sex marriages have the same financial guarantees as children of other married couples in time of divorce.

“It’s only a matter of time before same-sex marriage is legal,” Petersen said. “I thought it was important to engage the issue now, and when we do it, do it right, and that there’s some perspective from the people I represent in that.”

Again, the esteemed Senator must be reading my blog. My biggest objection to same-sex marriage has been rooted in the religious aspect. My concern is churches would be threatened with their tax-exempt status if they decline to host same-sex wedding ceremonies. However, that is an objection which Sen. Petersen, in my opinion, has adequately addressed.

On my radio program February 10, I specifically asked Sen. Petersen if he felt it was a mistake for he and his GOP colleagues to broach the marriage issue two years ago. He did indeed admit it was a mistake and thus stated that Republicans are much more effective focusing on issues of, say, smaller government, an issue which the vast majority of the electorate agree with the GOP. With that in mind, I'd be lying if I said I gleaned from that conversation that Petersen would go so far as to co-sponsor a bill legalizing same-sex marriage.

Finally, do I believe this action will hurt Sen. Petersen come 2016 when he again faces an electorate made up of residents whom the majority do not support gay marriage? My gut feeling tells me no. The Senator himself sounds as though he's willing to take his chances.

The first-term senator, who previously served as a House member, said he knows his position could cost him his seat.....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.

“(My constituents) 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.”

On Monday evening, I received a text message from the Senator requesting to be on my radio program Sunday, March 3. At the time, he merely alluded to the marriage issue and that there would be a lot talk about. I didn't ask any questions, so I just told him he has the 1:00 pm Central Time hour to discuss whatever he'd like.

So. This Minnesota legislative session sure got a heckuva a lot more interesting, eh?

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