News Articles

MARRIAGE DIGEST: Minn. legislator under fire for remarks about conversation with justices; Tenn. high court takes up case

ST. PAUL, Minn. (BP)–The majority leader of the Minnesota Senate is under fire for telling a group that justices on the state Supreme Court have assured him they’re “not going to touch” the issue of “gay marriage.”

If what Majority Leader Dean Johnson of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL) said is true, it would be a clear violation of judicial rules. Johnson has been an opponent of a proposed constitutional marriage amendment in the state, and conservatives blame him for blocking a vote on the issue in the Senate. An amendment passed the Republican-controlled House last year. Senate passage would send it to voters.

Johnson supposedly made the remarks to defend his opposition to an amendment.

“I know all of them,” he said of the justices. “I have had a number of visits with them about our law and all of them, every one of them including the lady who just stepped down, Kathleen Blatz, who was my seatmate for four years, she was the chief justice. You know what her response was? ‘Dean, we all stand for election, too — every six years.’ She said, ‘We are not going to touch it.'”

Johnson further said that two of the three justices named Anderson told him, “Dean, We’re not gonna do this.”

The remarks were made in a January meeting to the New London-Spicer Ministerial Association. A minister attending the meeting, Brent Waldemarsen, senior pastor of Harvest Community Church of God in Willmar, Minn., recorded Johnson’s speech. Johnson’s remarks regarding the court were then posted on the website of Minnesota for Marriage, which supports a marriage amendment.

A Star Tribune poll from last May showed 51 percent of Minnesotans saying the state needed a marriage amendment. Forty-six percent “agreed strongly.”

“We believe the only way he can rectify this is by simply allowing the marriage amendment to come out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and come to the Senate floor for a fair and open and honest debate,” Chuck Darrell, a spokesman for Minnesota for Marriage, told the Associated Press. “That’s all we’re asking for.”

New Minnesota Chief Justice Russell Anderson issued a statement denying Johnson’s assertion, AP reported.

“I take any suggestion of judicial impropriety very seriously,” Anderson said. “I have spoken with every member of my court and my predecessor and I can say with confidence that no member of the Supreme Court has made any commitment to Sen. Johnson on this matter.”

Blatz also denied making any promises.

For his part, Johnson told the Star Tribune that his remarks weren’t completely true.

“I embellished it to say the judiciary doesn’t seem too interested in overturning this,” Johnson told the Star Tribune. “… I suppose I was becoming frustrated. I made a mistake.”

Even if what Johnson originally said was true, it would not mean that the court won’t deal with the issue of “gay marriage.” The court has seven members. His original statement includes promises from only two sitting members.

Nineteen states have adopted marriage amendments, and another seven are scheduled to vote on them this year. The amendments prevent state courts from legalizing “gay marriage.”

TENN. SUPREME COURT TAKES CASE — The Tennessee Supreme Court announced March 17 that it would hear a case June 7 that could result in the removal of a proposed constitutional marriage amendment from the November ballot. The lawsuit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, contends that the Tennessee state legislature did not follow the law properly in sending the amendment to voters.

A lower court judge ruled against the ACLU Feb. 23, and conservatives were hoping the state Supreme Court would let that ruling stand without hearing the case.

Constitutional amendments in the Volunteer State must pass the legislature in two consecutive sessions. According to the state constitution, an amendment, after passing the first time, must “be published six months” prior to the election of the next legislature. The ACLU said the amendment was published in newspapers only four and a half months prior to the election. But in her February ruling, Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle, said the amendment’s coverage in the media fulfilled the constitutional requirement.

RALLY IN IOWA — About 1,000 people rallied at the Iowa state capitol building March 14, urging the state legislature to send a proposed constitutional marriage amendment to the voters. Iowa is one of nine states involved in a “gay marriage” lawsuit.

“The voices of a few are threatening to redefine the definition of marriage. The people of Iowa — not some judge — should watch over this sacred institution,” Dan Berry, pastor of Cornerstone Family Church in Des Moines, told the rally, according to The Des Moines Register.

An amendment has passed the state House but has been blocked by Democrats in the Senate from receiving a vote.

AMENDMENT MAKES PROGRESS IN PA. — A Pennsylvania House committee passed a proposed constitutional marriage amendment on a 15-3 vote March 15, sending it to the full chamber, the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal reported.

The amendment must pass the state House and Senate in consecutive sessions, and would appear on the ballot no earlier than 2007, the newspaper said.
For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust