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Gay marriage debate returns to Capitol; Schoen and Sieben support, but say budget the priority

ST. PAUL - Those on opposite sides of the same-sex marriage debate use the same argument: It is about families.

Both camps made their case Wednesday, Feb. 27, as Minnesota lawmakers released a proposal that would allow gay couples to wed.

"We are affirming that thing that we all prize: Love that is the center of everything," bill author Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis said, adding the bill is "changing nothing, redefining nothing."

Opponents said marriage is about more than two people's decisions and legalizing same-sex marriage will have widespread impacts.

"When marriage is redefined ... it doesn't happen in a vacuum," Autumn Leva of Minnesota for Marriage said.

The bill was widely anticipated, especially after Minnesotans rejected a proposed constitutional amendment in November defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Same-sex marriage still is illegal under state law.

Legislative leaders have said that the gay marriage issue will work its way through committees, but will not be heard by the full House or Senate until the chambers approve a budget bill.

Two south Washington County DFL lawmakers - Sen. Katie Sieben of Cottage Grove and Rep. Dan Schoen of St. Paul Park -- say they support gay marriage but their focus is on setting a new two-year state budget.

"As I have said previously, my top priority this session is helping craft a budget solution that is fiscally sound and helps to advance Minnesota's competitiveness," Sieben said. "With that being said, if the proposed marriage equality bill advances and comes before me this session, I will support it. I recognize that Minnesotans have mixed feelings over the subject, but I firmly believe the laws of Minnesota should treat Minnesotans fairly. Churches will not be required to marry same-sex couples, but same-sex couples should be treated equally under the laws of the state."

Schoen said the budget is the "No. 1 issue," but he said he understood why supporters introduced the gay marriage proposal now in order to meet legislative deadlines. "When and if it does get to a vote this session, I will support it," he said.

Schoen said he supports a provision in the bill that exempts religious institutions opposed to gay marriage from performing same-sex marriages. "I'm not about making them do that. I think that's wrong too," he said.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, did not respond immediately for a request for comment on the issue.

Dibble, the bill sponsor, acknowledged that policy issues, such as gay marriage, could be on hold until the state budget is done.

Opponents were vocal in their objection to gay marriage.

Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, said marriage between one man and one woman is natural and protects children.

"There is no gay gene," he said. Legalizing same-sex marriage will have "tremendous ramifications," he said.

Opponents also said legalizing same-sex marriage could infringe on those who are against it.

-Danielle Killey and Scott Wente

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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