St. Louis County Board set to take a stand on marriage amendmentA majority of St. Louis County commissioners appear poised to pass a resolution opposing an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that would ban same-sex marriage.
By: John Myers , Duluth News Tribune
A majority of St. Louis County commissioners appear poised to pass a resolution opposing an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that would ban same-sex marriage.
The County Board’s Committee of the Whole will review the resolution Tuesday at its regular meeting in Ely, and the board is expected to take a final vote on the issue Oct. 2 in Duluth.
A spokeswoman for Minnesotans United for All Families, which is urging residents to vote no on the amendment, said St. Louis County would be the first county board in Minnesota to take a stand on the amendment. But the county would join more than a dozen city councils in opposing the marriage amendment, including Mountain Iron, Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Mankato and several Twin Cities suburbs.
The resolution, proposed by commissioners Steve Raukar of Hibbing and Frank Jewell of Duluth, states that:
“…Whereas the proposed amendment would be contrary to the purpose of the Minnesota Constitution to protect the rights, privileges and freedom of conscience of all citizens by withholding from some individuals and families important legal rights and obligations; and
“Whereas the St. Louis County Board acknowledges and is committed to the importance of equality for all residents and citizens;
“Now Therefore, Be It Resolved, that the St. Louis County Board of Commissioners in principle hereby goes on record in opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment entitled ‘Recognition of Marriage solely between one man and one woman.’ ”
If the amendment is passed, the Constitution would declare marriage lawful only between one man and one woman.
While some commissioners are likely to say the county has no role in the marriage amendment debate, Jewell disagrees.
“As elected officials, when we see something that is just plain wrong, taking one group’s rights away, it’s our obligation and duty to stand up and say no, to take the lead,” Jewell told the News Tribune. “And the county has a more direct role in this because it is our (recorder’s) office that will be the front line in denying these people marriage licenses, of enforcing the amendment. So I think it is very appropriate we take a stand on this.”
Raukar said the resolution should be acceptable to most of the seven commissioners because it doesn’t align with any group involved in the debate and doesn’t condone any stance on the issue.
“We aren’t telling people how to vote. We’re stating that we, as a board, oppose this as bad government policy,’’ Raukar said.
The resolution is expected to spur heated debate and attract opponents and supporters to the Oct. 2 meeting.
Commissioner Chris Dahlberg, who represents western Duluth, said he was “rather disappointed’’ that the issue was coming up just six weeks before the election.
“This is a deeply personal decision for people … and I think it’s time now to just let the people decide in November,’’ Dahlberg said, adding that he hadn’t made a commitment to how he will vote on the County Board resolution.
Though the St. Louis County Board has tilted more conservative on many issues in recent years, the marriage amendment vote appears to buck that trend. The amendment will have the support of Raukar, Jewell and commissioners Steve O’Neil of eastern Duluth and Peg Sweeney of Proctor. Commissioners Dahlberg, Mike Forsman of Ely and Keith Nelson of Fayal Township generally have been conservative voices on the board.
It’s not the first time the County Board has ventured into areas commissioners are not directly involved in. In December, the board passed a resolution 4-3 supporting copper mining in the region even though the county has no regulatory authority on the issue. Supporters said it was important to take a stand because the industry could help boost the region’s economy.
The board last year also approved, on a 5-2 vote, a watered-down resolution opposing the proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment requiring a voter identification card. Some county officials said their vote was based primarily on the potential cost to the county to buy new equipment to enforce the voter card requirement, though others said mandatory voter identification cards will prevent some people from casting ballots.
Both the copper mining and voter identification votes came in front of a packed audience the board rarely sees when conducting its day-to-day business.