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Arguments similar in states that allow gay-marriage

ST. PAUL -- Gay marriage remains divisive in states that allow it, with arguments that sound a lot like what Minnesotans are hearing as they consider a proposed constitutional amendment on the subject.

Some see allowing gay marriages to be nothing more than allowing gays and lesbians to exercise the rights they deserve, but others say the marriages hurt society.

Even in Massachusetts, where a 2004 court ruling made it the first state to allow gay marriage, the arguments remain strong.

"It is amazing how this permeated so much of society," said Director Brian Camenker of MassResistance, a group that now has become a national clearinghouse for anti-gay marriage information.

Massachusetts public schools now are required to teach that gay marriage is the same as "regular marriage," said Camenker, a Duluth, Minn., native.

In Iowa, a gay man who was among the first married after that state's high court overturned a same-sex marriage ban in 2009 said the court decision affected few.

"The only thing that has changed here, honestly, is lucky people are able to get married," said John Sellers of Des Moines. "That's about it. The only lives that are affected are the couples who wanted to get married."

People understand him when he says he is married to Tom Helten, he said, unlike when he introduced Helten as his "partner." The word "marriage" brings a deeper feeling, Sellers added.

A proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment in front of voters Nov. 6 would define marriage as only between a man and a woman.

State law already contains that definition. But amendment supporters say they fear the courts or the Legislature could overturn the law, making gay marriage legal, something that would be more difficult if the provision were in the Constitution.

Polls show the issue to be close in Minnesota, where opponents hope to become the first state where voters reject the gay marriage ban.

A Massachusetts poll earlier this year showed 58 percent approve of gay marriage eight years after it was allowed, with 31 percent opposing and fewer than 20 percent saying that gay marriage affects them.

Iowa, the only state near Minnesota to allow gays to marry, remains divided. Efforts are afoot to pass a constitutional amendment to eliminate gay marriages and to kick out a fourth Supreme Court justice who ruled in favor of same-sex marriages. Voters removed three other justices in 2010.

Less than a month after the 2009 Iowa court decision, Sellers and Helten married in a small ceremony after being together 14 years.

They could have gone to another state, but wanted to marry in Iowa.

"If we are going to get married, we want to get married in our native state," Sellers said.

In their 50s, the couple does not plan to become parents, although Sellers said they may have considered that if they were younger. Iowa gay couples now have the same parental rights as straight couples, one of the arguments in favor of gay marriage.

Instead of looking at adoption, Sellers and Helten are closer to another issue that gay marriage allows.

Gay partners long have complained that laws do not allow them to take a legal part in each other's lives. For instance, Sellers said that being married will allow either of the men to have a say in medical choices if the other is incapacitated.

About 4,500 gay couples have wed in Iowa, mostly Iowans, but a report estimates that as long as Iowa remains an island on the issue, same-sex weddings could generate up to $13 million annually as couples flock to Iowa.

Molly Tofya of One Iowa, a group working for same-sex marriage rights, Iowans see none of the negative changes predicted by those who oppose gay marriage.

"Those are scare tactics used by our opposition," she said. "And they work."

For Camenker, they are not scare tactics. They are reality.

He authored a report detailing impacts he has seen in Massachusetts.

"The schools were the place where it became huge," he said.

Schools are required to teach that gay and straight marriages are equal, Camenker said, "and parents can't opt their kids out of that kind of discussion. In fact, the schools don't even have to tell parents when they are doing that."

Private schools and churches, which are not required to treat same-sex marriages equally, are being harassed, Camenker said, which makes them less likely to support straight marriage.

"Every business has to cater to the concept of men being married to other men in everything they do, such as in benefits and regular paperwork and everything that goes on," he said. "And if two men want to go into a restaurant and start kissing each other and they (restaurant workers) do anything, the hard hand of the law goes afterwards."

Davis reports for the Bulletin and other Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.