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Deep marriage amendment divisions evident in pre-election debate

Brian Bown of the National Organization for Marriage, left, speaks in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage Thursday, Nov. 1, during a St. Paul debate. Looking on are Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson and moderator Kerri Miller of Minnesota Public Radio. Forum Communications photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's hottest election topic continues to get hotter as Election Day nears.

Whether to amend the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage has generated the most debate and most money this election season, and a Thursday night debate did nothing to pave over differences.

"What we are talking about is marriage, just marriage," Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson said.

But supporters of the proposed amendment said that having same-sex parents is not good for children.

"Children deserve having both a mother and a father," President Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage said.

The debate about a subject that polls show nearly evenly divides Minnesotans was organized by Minnesota Public Radio and moderated by talk show host Kerri Miller in front of 365 people and a statewide radio audience.

Robinson is Episcopalian bishop in New Hampshire and the first openly gay bishop in his denomination. Brown works on organizing votes such as in Minnesota.

Much of the debate was about religion, with two clergymen on the panel.

The Bible says "thou shall not" marry someone of the same gender, said the Rev. Jerry McAfee of St. Paul's New Salem Missionary Baptist Church. "The Bible is to me still the word of God."

Robinson, however, said that when he marries two gay people, he relies on "love your neighbor as yourself."

Brown said the overwhelming majority of clergy support a marriage only of a man and a woman.

But Sarah Walker, a board member for anti-amendment group Minnesotans United for All Families, said religions interpret the Bible differently.

She said the conversation about gay marriage needs to continue, but the amendment would stop such talk.

Brown said the constitutional amendment "would stop judges from redefining marriage," but would not be permanent. A new Legislature could send another constitutional amendment to voters to allow gay marriage, he said.

While Brown and McAfee said gay marriage is not good, Robinson said that he has yet to meet anyone who has been harmed by his marriage of more than 20 years.

"We are 32 and zero," Brown said in arguing that the public is on his side, referring to 32 states approving marriage definitions like on Tuesday's Minnesota ballot.

The amendment would insert the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman into the state Constitution.

State law already contains that definition, but amendment supporters say legislators or judges could overturn state law at any time, something more difficult if the definition is in the Constitution.

With the law already in place, there would be no immediate change if Minnesotans approve the amendment Tuesday.

Most recent polls show the marriage question to be in a virtual tie. Fund-raising, however, is lopsided with anti-amendment group Minnesotans United for All Families collecting $11.2 million this year and amendment-supporting Minnesota for Marriage reporting $3.6 million in donations.

While those opposed to the amendment have picked up much of the newspaper editorial page support, amendment backers claim growing numbers of clergy on their side.

Highlighting religious leaders backing the amendment is the Rev. Billy Graham, whose worldwide evangelical ministry was based in Minneapolis 50 years.

"As a former resident with strong personal and ministry ties to the North Star State, I pray that the good people of Minnesota will show their support for God's definition of marriage, between a man and a woman," Graham said in a statement.

Pastors for Marriage added its voice Thursday, saying more than 500 Christian pastors and other leaders endorse the amendment. The pastors come from Assemblies of God, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic and other churches.

Those who oppose the amendment hosted more than 1,000 people, with 150 clergy, at a Thursday night worship service. After the service, clergy blessed a "Minnesota Votes No Tour" recreational vehicle that is to crisscross the state through Monday.

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.