St. Louis County Board votes to oppose marriage amendmentSt. Louis County commissioners voted 4-3 today to oppose an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that would ban gay marriage.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
St. Louis County commissioners voted 4-3 today to oppose an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that would ban gay marriage.
About 25 people attended the meeting in the Duluth courthouse with fewer than a dozen speaking on the issue before commissioners acted on the issue.
Commissioners Steve Raukar of Hibbing, Peg Sweeney of Proctor and Steve O’Neil and Frank Jewell of Duluth voted in favor of the resolution. Commissioners Mike Forsman of Ely, Chris Dahlberg of Duluth and Keith Nelson of Fayal Township voted no.
A majority of speakers urged commissioners to oppose any constitutional amendment that would take rights away from people rather than guarantee rights.
Henry Banks, a Duluth community activist and self-described born-again Christian, urged commissioners to oppose the marriage amendment, saying, “Not everyone who is a Christian believer wants to have other people’s rights taken away.
“Love is essential; that is what we need in this country. There is too much hate,” Banks added. “Please don’t restrict people’s right to love.”
But others said their belief in the Bible required them to oppose not gay people but gay marriage as contrary to centuries of societal norms.
“This isn’t about gays and lesbians. It’s about marriage,” said David Richter, a Duluth pastor. “Where do we draw the line? When we stop setting limits and start calling everything a freedom, society has imploded.”
Raukar and other supporters said it was important for local elected officials to show leadership in opposing bad state policy, saying the constitutional amendment was an end-run around representative democracy.
The marriage amendment “is bad government that takes way freedoms … an ill-conceived attempt to deny equality under the law,” said Raukar, who joined Jewell in sponsoring the resolution. “It’s harmful, mean, spiteful and regressive.”
But Dahlberg said the issue was political grandstanding and “inappropriate” just 35 days before voters will decide the issue. And he criticized supporters on the board of showing “poor leadership” and having a lack of discipline to stick to county-focused issues.
A spokeswoman for Minnesotans United for All Families, which is urging residents to vote no on the amendment, has said St. Louis County is the first county board in Minnesota to take a stand on the amendment. But the county joins 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 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 on Nov. 6 the state constitution would declare marriage lawful only between one man and one woman. But even if the amendment fails, gay marriage is still illegal under state law. That law would have to be reversed by the Legislature and governor before marriage between members of the same sex would become legal.
Opponents said the issue doesn’t belong in front of the County Board because it’s a state issue that voters will decide. But it’s at least the third time the board has passed resolutions in the last two years on issues when commissioners disagreed on the appropriateness.
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 and that the environmental review process hadn’t yet concluded. 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.