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A look at issues surrounding marriage amendment

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota voters will be asked in the Nov. 6 election whether they want to amend the state Constitution to define a marriage as between a man and a woman, effectively outlawing gay marriages. Here is a look at the issues:

Process: The Minnesota Constitution is amended when the Legislature passes a proposed amendment and a majority of voters in a general election approve it. The governor has no official role.

Reasoning: Amendment supporters say a marriage must be only between a man and a woman to protect children. "By encouraging men and women to marry, society helps ensure that children will be known by and cared for by their biological parents," the Minnesota for Marriage Web site says. Supporters say they fear if the Constitution is not amended and gay marriage is allowed, schools would be forced to teach about it and Minnesotans would be forced to treat same-sex married couples the same as opposite-sex couples.

Opponents: Those against the amendment, coordinated by Minnesotans United for All Families, say the government should not limit marriage. They say any two people in love should be allowed to marry. They also say that allowing gay marriage would allow partners to be treated equally. For instance, one partner in a same-sex marriage could be covered by the other's health-insurance policy.

Politics: Generally, Republicans favor the amendment and Democrats oppose it, but it certainly is not unanimous on either side.

Religion: Amendment proponents point to the Bible and other religious documents that they say limit marriage to a man and a woman and that a marriage is meant to produce children. Opponents claim religious teachings are not that specific and that love is the deciding factor of who gets married. Some denominations have taken strong official stands on the amendment, such as Catholic leaders supporting it.

Existing law: State law already requires marriage to be only between a man and a woman. However, amendment supporters say judges or legislators can more easily overturn a law than a provision in the Constitution.

Impact: Because state law already forbids gay marriage, there would be no change if courts and legislators leave the law intact.

Other states: Six states allow same-sex marriages, as does Washington, D.C. Three other legislatures have approved gay marriage, but bills either were vetoed or are awaiting voter decisions. Three states specifically acknowledge same-sex marriages in other states. Thirteen states offer gay partnership provisions short of marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court could consider up to a dozen cases on the same-sex marriage issue, which could affect state provisions on the topic.

Amendment wording: "Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota."

Not voting: If a voter leaves the amendment part of the ballot blank, it counts as a vote against the amendment. For a constitutional amendment to be adopted, it must receive a majority of the total number of ballots cast, not just the votes on the amendment.

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.