Friday, May 20, 2011

An Eventful Day at the Capitol

I was back at the Minnesota State Capitol today, participating in the ongoing series of rallies against the proposed "marriage amendment" that would constitutionally ban civil marriage rights for same-sex couples.

As you may have already heard it was quite an eventful day, beginning with what's been described as a "legislative firestorm" erupting over anti-gay pastor Bradlee Dean's opening prayer in the House chambers. Dean, who has talked of both jailing and executing gay people, concluded his rambling prayer by asserting that President Obama is not a Christian.

Reports the Star Tribune:

According to those present, Dean, who has suggested he approves of the death penalty for gay people on a radio show, was accusatory toward Democrats and insulting to people who do not believe in Jesus.

. . . [After Dean's opening prayer] the House session broke down as leaders huddled with their staff members to discuss what to do. Both his words and his background ignited the firestorm.

The session quickly ended and Republicans huddled in a private caucus meeting for more than an hour.

Immediately after the House came back to order, DFL Rep. Terry Morrow took to the floor to say the hope of peace in the daily prayer had been "crushed by a single person's words."

He said the House had been fragmented and needed to be repaired.

"This can't happen again," Morrow said.

Democrats in the chamber expressed shock and said they were appalled. Some Republicans joined in the condemnation. Majority Leader Matt Dean said the prayer was inappropriate. House Speaker Kurt Zellers put it more bluntly, calling it a mistake.

When the House reconvened, Zellers stepped down from the speaker's chair and addressed his fellow House members. He called Dean "a man I personally denounce." Allowing him to deliver the prayer was wrong, "and for that I apologize to each and every one of you." He said he agreed with Morrow's criticism.

"I can only ask you for your forgiveness . . . That type of person will never, ever be allowed on the House floor again," Zellers said.

In another Star Tribune
article it's noted that "Republicans and DFL members, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and even the pro-amendment Minnesota Catholic Conference joined in denouncing Dean and in backing the seeming official sanction from the House."

A number of commentators have also suggested that Dean's controversial prayer might actually jeopardize the same-sex amendment vote. My friend Phil shared on Facebook: "Bradlee Dean may be one of the most powerful advocates we've seen against the amendment! A hero to all who favor fairness! This is what happens when you put the patients in charge of the asylum."

Meanwhile, the Star Tribune's description of the goings-on outside the House chamber was, I thought, spot on.

As they have nearly all week, passionate opponents of the marriage amendment stood outside the House chamber, cheering their allies and chanting so loudly the sound echoed through every floor of the Capitol.

Among those of us gathered in opposition to the amendment there was much talk and speculation as to why voting on the controversial bill by the full House was seemingly being delayed. One popular theory is that passage of the bill isn't as certain as previous thought, and that until its Republican backers are convinced that they have the numbers, the amendment won't be put up for a vote.

Minnesota Public Radio's coverage of today's events reflects this uncertainty and theory by noting that the same-sex marriage amendment was "up in the air," and that "House members [were] privately debating whether the lack of floor action so far is a reflection of uncertainty whether the GOP caucus can muster the bloc of votes to approve."

MPR also notes that:

. . . Second term Rep. Tim Sanders, R- Blaine, said he supports putting same sex marriage on the state ballot, but has other priorities.

"I think the focus really should be on the budget. That's what the folks sent us all here to focus on," Sanders said . . . hint[ing] that the same-sex marriage amendment may play into budget negotiations.

. . . Freshman Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, was elusive about the subject. Asked this morning if she would support putting the amendment on the ballot, she wouldn't commit either way. "I have my concerns," she said. She said she wanted to hear floor debate on the matter.

. . . Rep. Karen Clark, DFL- Minneapolis, the only openly lesbian member of the House, said she thinks the vote in the House will be more difficult than that in the Senate.

"There are members who feel torn, just agonizingly torn on the Republican side," Clark said. "They don't want to vote for this. They personally believe that it's wrong. You know, people are crying about this. It's a very emotional issue. People who fell that their conscience tells them that they should not support a constitutional amendment, but their party is telling them they must."

Right: A man in the clerical garb of a Roman Catholic priest holds a sign in support of the amendment and prays the Rosary among the chanting opponents of the amendment. When approached by members of the media, the man refused to give his name, which struck many as odd. Was he really a priest?

Above: When the man dressed as a priest was leaving, members of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN approached him and attempted to engage him in dialogue. After observing our banner he curtly said, "You won't find that [i.e., official Catholic support for same-sex marriage] in the Catechism."

My friend Mary Lynn Murphy, pictured above center, responded by saying that she doesn't require a catechism to tell her how to love and accept her gay son. She then asked if members of the church's clerical caste had any idea of the havoc that their erroneous and insensitive rhetoric on homosexuality was causing individuals and families.

I just wished I'd had a copy of our Tips for Speaking as a Catholic for Marriage Equality to give him!

Above: The type of message that the vast majority of people – including Catholics – were sending to legislators today at the Capitol.

Above: Jeff Wilfahrt, whose gay son, Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt, was killed in action in Afghanistan in February 2011.

At a rally at the Capitol in April, Jeff told those gathered that he was grateful to his son for making him "a better human being, a better American, [and] a better Minnesotan."

He also vowed to never give up fighting against the marriage amendment, declaring that gay people like his beloved son deserved "the same rights as every one of his fellow Minnesotans."

Left: My friend Senator Scott Dibble, the only openly gay member of the Minnesota State Senate. He represents District 60, which includes portions of the city of Minneapolis in Hennepin County.

Of the Bradlee Dean controversy earlier in the day, Scott said the following in a media release.

In this time of divisiveness, it's disgraceful and appalling to see the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the body that is supposed to represent all Minnesotans, invite hatred into the opening prayer. Instead of providing a message of inclusion and hope, the House began this day with hate and discrimination. Mr. Dean has a long and well-known record of intolerance, something that should have no place in the legislature, let alone in a prayerful blessing. This morning's action is a sad commentary on House Republican leadership's apparent ambivalence for supporting the equal rights and beliefs of all Minnesotans.

Above: A pointed message to Christians supportive of the marriage amendment.

Above: Members of the Minnesota House of Representatives leave the House chamber.

Right: Rep. John Kriesel of Cottage Grove is one of two Republican House members who openly oppose the marriage amendment. Tim Kelly of Red Wing is the other.

"I trust my gut," Kriesel told MPR. "There's a lot of people that think the timing [of the amendment] is wrong. There's a lot of people that don't want to deal with it. But I don't think the timing is ever right, because I think it's the wrong thing to do."

As he was leaving the House chamber, Kriesel paused and spoke to those of us rallying against the amendment.

"I'm proud of you," he said. "You are making a difference."

Yes, What a Man! that John Kriesel is!

Recommended Off-site Links:
Legislative Firestorm Erupts Over Bradlee Dean's Prayer – Jay Weiner (, May 20, 2011).
Prayer Controversy Jeopardizes Same-Sex Amendment Vote – Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Bob von Sternberg (Star Tribune, May 20, 2011).
A Busy Day for Elusive Capitol Preacher Bradlee Dean – James Nord (, May 20, 2011).
MN Lawmaker Apologizes for Pastor Invite CBS Minnesota (May 20, 2011).
Majority of Americans Support Gay Marriage – Alex Dobuzinskis (Reuters via Yahoo! News, May 20, 2011).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
MN Marriage Amendment Headed for House Vote
At the Minnesota Capitol, Signs of the Times
David Booth on What It Might Mean to "Let the People Decide" on the Marriage Amendment
The Real Losers at the MN State Capitol Today
Opposition to the Marriage Amendment Grows
Tips on Speaking as a Catholic in Support of Marriage Equality
Winona Daily News Calls Proposed Marriage Amendment "Bigoted" and "Malicious"
Law Professor: Marriage Amendment is Divisive and Mean-Spirited

Images: Michael J. Bayly.


colkoch said...

Love this comment after an article on this situation:

"Thank you, Mark Dayton and everyone who worked for your election.

Can you imagine where we'd be if Tom Emmer had won?

Even Wisconsin would be laughing at how fast we'd launched ourselves over the cliff."

Now that your Speaker has stated no such person shall ever again be invited to speak, I wonder if that will include Michelle Bachmann.

The religious and political right is going off the deep end all over the place. I think my prayer for today-especially today-- is that they all be raptured to some place else.

Michael said...

Michael .... have been waiting patiently for your reportage of this eventful day, as you have been "on the trenches", so to speak. Keep up the pressure. This guy Dean is turning out to be the the LGBT community's best fried right now. So delicious...