By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer
NORTH MANKATO — Polls show Minnesotans are closely divided on the ballot measure to constitutionally prohibit same-sex marriage, but the North Mankato City Council was overwhelmingly opposed Monday night to getting entangled in the issue.
After listening to five people — three in favor of the city holding a public hearing and passing a resolution opposing the amendment, two calling for no city involvement — the council rejected a request to hold a hearing and pass a resolution in opposition to the amendment.
Mayor Mark Dehen and council members Diane Norland and Bill Schindle said they didn’t see a proper city role in sponsoring a discussion of — or taking an official position related to — the amendment that would constitutionally reinforce Minnesota’s existing law limiting marriage to opposite sex couples.
Councilman Bob Freyberg remained silent during the discussion and declined to comment after the meeting, and Councilman Billy Steiner was absent. But with three members of the five-person council uninterested in getting involved, the issue was decided.
“If we vote one way, we’re supporting 50 percent of the population and we’re going against 50 percent of the population,” Schindle said, breaking several seconds of silence after Dehen asked the council to state its wishes. “And I just don’t think that’s something the council should do.”
Dehen said the electorate will settle the issue on Nov. 6.
“At this point, I think we’ll let the voters decide in the privacy of the ballot box,” said Dehen, who like Schindle didn’t share his opinion of the amendment itself.
Dehen, Steiner and Norland will be on the same ballot, seeking re-election. But Norland’s comments may have left both 50-percents unhappy — strongly condemning the amendment but declining to support the resolution opposing it.
“If you drive by my house, you will see the sign. You will know where I stand,” Norland said of her “Vote No” yard sign. “I’ve been grappling with this for a long, long time. I abhor what I call ‘the anti-marriage amendment.’ I abhor it.”
But Norland said she agrees that the city doesn’t have a role in the debate and that her opposition to the amendment should remain as a private citizen rather than as a council member.
“I think our work is sewers, parks, those kinds of things,” she said. “I don’t think (the amendment) is our arena of work.”
The issue came to the council after North Mankatoan Nancy Cramblit asked the council to pass a resolution opposing the amendment, which would have required a public hearing on Oct. 16.
Two supporters and three opponents of the amendment, put on the ballot by Minnesota’s Republican-controlled Legislature, spoke first Monday night. Cramblit asked that North Mankato become the 14th city in the state to officially oppose the amendment, but she said her overriding goal — even if the council didn’t want to pass the resolution — was to have the city sponsor a discussion of the topic in the interest of informing voters.
Bob Wegscheid, speaking on behalf of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church’s pro-amendment committee, said the city has no legitimate reason to inject itself into an issue that is to be decided by the voters. Wegscheid also discouraged the council from holding a hearing to allow North Mankatoans to debate the issue, saying the Legislature had already held hearings where public testimony was allowed.
Scott Thiem of Shady Oak Drive, however, said the council should take a stand because the civil rights of some of its residents would be undermined by passage of the amendment.
“We have gay and lesbian citizens who live in our community. They support our town as much as any straight person does,” Thiem said. “They pay taxes. They interact in our community. They shop in our stores. They go to our college (and schools). We should be telling our entire community that we don’t have second-class citizens in our town.”
Russ Blaschko of Mankato supports the amendment and said the council should stay out of an issue that’s already receiving plenty of discussion in homes, churches and elsewhere. And he discounted the idea that passage of the amendment would restrict the civil rights of anyone.
“This is not about the individual, not about not liking, not respecting, the individual gay or lesbian person,” Blaschko said. “This is about marriage. This is about the uniqueness of marriage. This is about children and the future of society — what is the best for the future of society.”
With the state’s voters splintered on the topic, and the people at Monday’s meeting closely split, Mankato-North Mankato is now officially divided as well.
Across the river, the Mankato City Council agreed to hold a public hearing on the amendment in August. And after more than two hours of public testimony, the council voted 4-3 to oppose the amendment.