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Group urges same-sex partner benefits

ST. PAUL -- More than 2,000 people called on Minnesota lawmakers Thursday to support legislation to open up health and hospital visitation rights for same-sex domestic partners.

ST. PAUL -- More than 2,000 people called on Minnesota lawmakers Thursday to support legislation to open up health and hospital visitation rights for same-sex domestic partners.

OutFront Minnesota -- the state's largest gay rights group -- rallied supporters on the Capitol steps. The House is expected to vote on a series of domestic partner provisions today.

The legislation, which has a good chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Legislature, includes provisions making same-sex partners eligible for state insurance benefits and requiring employers to include domestic partners as part of an expanded pool of people for whom employees are allowed to take sick leave.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Thursday repeated his pledge to veto any bills extending benefits to same-sex partners.

Rep. Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, echoed the governor's prediction, saying the bill's same-sex provisions would mean more costs to taxpayers and would reach a dead end when the legislative session wraps up.

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"It's the wrong direction to be going for supporting traditional families in the state," Sviggum said.

Still, many rally-goers expressed hope that a DFL-controlled Legislature would mean greater support for gay rights.

"I think the tide has turned," said Angie Nichols, who represented a delegation from Duluth. "It will be much easier this year to appeal to the idea of fairness and equality -- for all people, really."

Organizers said turnout for the rally was somewhat lower than in recent years, when activists railed against bills calling for voters to consider a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. That issue isn't dead, said Ann DeGroot, OutFront Minnesota's executive director, but noted that since tensions surrounding the issue aren't as high this year, motivation may have been lower.

While gay-rights advocates push for several initiatives, those who oppose gay marriages are trotting out a constitutional amendment proposal they failed to pass the past couple of years.

"The phrase 'let the people vote' is going to be heard again in the Legislature," Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said.

The amendment would define marriage as being between one man and one woman, which would ban same-sex marriage. The public would vote on the amendment in the November 2008 general election.

Mike Longaecker works for Forum Communications, which owns the News Tribune.

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