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MARRIAGE DIGEST: Minn. Senate leader apologizes for ‘gay marriage’ comments; McCain courts conservatives

ST. PAUL, Minn. (BP)–The majority leader of the Minnesota Senate took to the floor March 27 to apologize for controversial comments he made earlier this year about the state Supreme Court and a possible “gay marriage” case.

His apology, though, didn’t address whether he ever talked to the justices about the issue.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson has been under fire in recent weeks for telling a group of pastors in January that he had spoken with Minnesota Supreme Court justices and that they supposedly had told him they were “not going to touch” the issue of “gay marriage.” Such a conversation would have been a violation of judicial conduct rules.

Supporters of a proposed constitutional marriage amendment have blamed Johnson for blocking a vote on the issue. Johnson’s comments to the pastors were seen as a way of defending his position.

Johnson, a member of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL), first apologized for the comments in a tearful news conference with reporters. Republicans then brought an ethics complaint against him, and the Senate ethics committee unanimously voted to require him to apologize both to the group of pastors and to the Senate.

“I apologize to you for the inaccurate statement, which I made in a meeting with pastors in January,” Johnson told his fellow senators, according to the Pioneer Press. “I regret the statement I made, I have apologized outside this forum earlier, and today I apologize to this body, my constituents and the people of Minnesota.”

He further said, “I have at no time received any commitments regarding potential judicial decisions from any member of the Minnesota Supreme Court.”

But Johnson didn’t deny that conversations with the justices in fact took place. In his comments to the pastors, Johnson said of the justices, “I know all of them. 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 two of the three justices named Anderson told him, “Dean, We’re not gonna do this.”

Johnson’s comments were taped by a pastor at the meeting and posted in March on the website of Minnesota for Marriage, which supports a marriage amendment.

Minnesota Chief Justice Russell Anderson has denied that any justice made a promise. Blatz also denied the assertion.

But some senators say that the conversation between Johnson and the justices may have taken place.

“I think it is possible he had a meeting and the topic came up,” Sen. Thomas Neuville, a Republican, told the Associated Press. “If push had come to shove, I think [Johnson] would have had witnesses. I didn’t sense he was gaming or bluffing.”

In fact, Johnson’s attorney, Ellen Sampson, told a Senate committee that conversations did take place between Johnson and more than one justice.

“If the committee tells us to name them, we will name them and we will call the witnesses who were in those meetings and heard those conversations,” Sampson told the committee, according to AP. “The issue of gay rights was part of these discussions.”

Amendment supporters say the controversy would end if Johnson allowed a vote on the amendment, which passed the House but hasn’t received a Senate vote. Senate passage would send it to the voters.

Republicans don’t intend to let the issue die, though, and have introduced at least eight marriage amendments in the Senate, AP reported. The flood of amendments has a purpose. Last year, the Senate defeated an attempt to bring the amendment up for a vote. Senate DFL leaders then prohibited a second vote, saying rules prevent another vote on the same amendment, AP said.

MCCAIN ON BOARD? — Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., appears to be courting conservative voters for a possible presidential bid, and he may have left the door open for supporting a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He opposed it during a 2004 vote.

McCain met recently with pastor and conservative leader Jerry Falwell and is set to address Liberty University’s graduation May 13. Falwell is founder and chancellor of the school.

Falwell told ABC News that McCain “reconfirmed” to him that he’d support a marriage amendment if a federal court were to strike down state constituional marriage amendments.

“I think he is genuinely a state’s righter — and so am I,” Falwell told ABC News.

McCain also said he spoke “in haste” during the 2004 presidential campaign when he said Falwell was one of the nation’s “agents of intolerance,” the news agency reported.

“It just came down to pure old politics in South Carolina and other states,” Falwell told ABC News.

McCain supports a proposed marriage amendment to the Arizona constitution. Last August he met with conservatives in the state and — according to a statement on the Center for Arizona Policy’s website — told them he’d support a federal amendment if “activist judges … continue to prevent states from voting to protect the definition of marriage” or if a federal judge’s decision overturning Nebraska’s marriage amendment is not reversed. The Nebraska decision was handed down last May.

In 2004 McCain called a federal amendment “antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans” — mainly the belief in states rights. But in that speech he seemed to leave room for changing his position, saying, “We will have to wait a little longer to see if Armageddon has arrived.”

DEWINE A SPONSOR — U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, R.-Ohio, signed on as a co-sponsor of the Marriage Protection Amendment March 29. The bill, S.J. Res. 1, now has the support of 30 senators. All are Republicans. The amendment would need 67 votes to clear the Senate.
For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage

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  • Michael Foust