Gay Marriage Debate Does Not End After It Becomes Legal

Gay marriage remains divisive in states that allow it, with arguments that sound a lot like what Minnesotans are hearing as they consider a proposed constitutional amendment on the subject.

Some see allowing gay marriages to be nothing more than allowing gays and lesbians to exercise the rights they deserve, but others say the marriages hurt society.


Even in Massachusetts, where a 2004 court ruling made it the first state to allow gay marriage, the arguments remain strong.

“It is amazing how this permeated so much of society,” said Director Brian Camenker of MassResistance, a group that now has become a national clearinghouse for anti-gay marriage information.

Massachusetts public schools now are required to teach that gay marriage is the same as “regular marriage,” said Camenker, a Duluth, Minn., native.

In Iowa, a gay man who was among the first married after that state’s high court overturned a same-sex marriage ban in 2009 said the court decision affected few.

“The only thing that has changed here, honestly, is lucky people are able to get married,” said John Sellers of Des Moines. “That’s about it. The only lives that are affected are the couples who wanted to get married.”

Helten, Sellers

People understand him when he says he is married to Tom Helten, he said, unlike when he introduced Helten as his “partner.” The word “marriage” brings a deeper feeling, Sellers added.

A proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment in front of voters Nov. 6 would define marriage as only between a man and a woman.

State law already contains that definition. But amendment supporters say they fear the courts or the Legislature could overturn the law, making gay marriage legal, something that would be more difficult if the provision were in the Constitution.

Polls show the issue to be close in Minnesota, where opponents hope to become the first state where voters reject the gay marriage ban.

A Massachusetts poll earlier this year showed 58 percent approve of gay marriage eight years after it was allowed, with 31 percent opposing and fewer than 20 percent saying that gay marriage affects them.

Iowa, the only state near Minnesota to allow gays to marry, remains divided. Efforts are afoot to pass a constitutional amendment to eliminate gay marriages and to kick out a fourth Supreme Court justice who ruled in favor of same-sex marriages. Voters removed three other justices in 2010.

Less than a month after the 2009 Iowa court decision, Sellers and Helten married in a small ceremony after being together 14 years.

They could have gone to another state, but wanted to marry in Iowa.

“If we are going to get married, we want to get married in our native state,” Sellers said they decided.

In their 50s, the couple does not plan to become parents, although Sellers said they may have considered that if they were younger. Iowa gay couples now have the same parental rights as straight couples, one of the arguments in favor of gay marriage.

Instead of looking at adoption, Sellers and Helten are closer to another issue that gay marriage allows.

Gay partners long have complained that laws do not allow them to take a legal part in each other’s lives. For instance, Sellers said that being married will allow either of the men to have a say in medical choices if the other is incapacitated.

About 4,500 gay couples have wed in Iowa, mostly Iowans, but a report estimates that as long as Iowa remains an island on the issue, same-sex weddings could generate up to $13 million annually as couples flock to Iowa.

Molly Tofya of One Iowa, a group working for same-sex marriage rights, Iowans see none of the negative changes predicted by those who oppose gay marriage.

“Those are scare tactics used by our opposition,” she said. “And they work.”

For Camenker, they are not scare tactics. They are reality.

He authored a report detailing impacts he has seen in Massachusetts.

“The schools were the place where it became huge,” he said.

Schools are required to teach that gay and straight marriages are equal, Camenker said, “and parents can’t opt their kids out of that kind of discussion. In fact, the schools don’t even have to tell parents when they are doing that.”

Private schools and churches, which are not required to treat same-sex marriages equally, are being harassed, Camenker said, which makes them less likely to support straight marriage.

“Every business has to cater to the concept of men being married to other men in everything they do, such as in benefits and regular paperwork and everything that goes on,” he said. “And if two men want to go into a restaurant and start kissing each other and they (restaurant workers) do anything, the hard hand of the law goes afterwards.”


Here is a look at the issues involved in the marriage amendment proposal:

Process: The Minnesota Constitution is amended when the Legislature passes a proposed amendment and a majority of voters in a general election approve it. The governor has no official role.

Reasoning: Amendment supporters say a marriage must be only between a man and a woman to protect children. “By encouraging men and women to marry, society helps ensure that children will be known by and cared for by their biological parents,” the Minnesota for Marriage Web site says. Supporters say they fear if the Constitution is not amended and gay marriage is allowed, schools would be forced to teach about it and Minnesotans would be forced to treat same-sex married couples the same as opposite-sex couples.

Opponents: Those against the amendment, coordinated by Minnesotans United for All Families, say the government should not limit marriage. They say any two people in love should be allowed to marry. They also say that allowing gay marriage would allow partners to be treated equally. For instance, one partner in a same-sex marriage could be covered by the other’s health-insurance policy.

Politics: Generally, Republicans favor the amendment and Democrats oppose it, but it certainly is not unanimous on either side.

Religion: Amendment proponents point to the Bible and other religious documents that they say limit marriage to a man and a woman and that a marriage is meant to produce children. Opponents claim religious teachings are not that specific and that love is the deciding factor of who gets married. Some denominations have taken strong official stands on the amendment, such as Catholic leaders supporting it.

Existing law: State law already requires marriage to be only between a man and a woman. However, amendment supporters say judges or legislators can more easily overturn a law than a provision in the Constitution.

Impact: Because state law already forbids gay marriage, there would be no change if courts and legislators leave the law intact.

Other states: Six states allow same-sex marriages, as does Washington, D.C. Three other legislatures have approved gay marriage, but bills either were vetoed or are awaiting voter decisions. Three states specifically acknowledge same-sex marriages in other states. Thirteen states offer gay partnership provisions short of marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court could consider up to a dozen cases on the same-sex marriage issue, which could affect state provisions on the topic.

Amendment wording: “Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota.”

Not voting: If a voter leaves the amendment part of the ballot blank, it counts as a vote against the amendment. For a constitutional amendment to be adopted, it must receive a majority of the total number of ballots cast, not just the votes on the amendment.