Lawmakers try to juggle budget, gay marriage

Published 10:40 am Wednesday, May 18, 2011

With five days of the legislative session left, lawmakers are still trying to balance the budget while also debating the gay marriage amendment.

Last week, the state Senate approved the amendment by a 38-27 vote. The amendment would define marriage in the Minnesota Constitution as a “union between one man and one woman” and would be up for a public vote in 2012.

Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, voted no.

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“The timing of it is a little unnecessary,” Sparks said. “Some of these social issues are about distraction and taking away from the real work of the Senate.”

Sparks expressed frustration, calling it a distraction and saying it’s not even needed since same-sex couples are already prohibited from marrying in Minnesota.

“Even if it was to pass, it would not go on the ballot until 2012,” he said. “The state of Minnesota already has some of the toughest laws in the book (regarding marriage), like the Defense of Marriage Act.”

Supporters of the traditional definition of marriage say the extra protection is needed to guard against judicial rulings.

The House Rules Committee is scheduled to vote Wednesday morning. If it passes, it will likely move to the House floor.

A group of democrats proposed legislation Monday that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. With only a week of session left, it’s unlikely the bill will go far.

Sparks said he is leery of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage because the Constitution is a touchy area.

“Anytime we look at using the Constitution to change laws, we need to be very careful,” Sparks said. “There’s a reason why we don’t want to become like California and be a state of referendum.”

Overall, though, Sparks said, the last week in session should be spent figuring out ways to fix the budget so legislators don’t have to come back for special session this summer.

“We have five days left of this legislative session,” he said. “We should really be focusing on balancing the budget.”