Listen: Gay rights bill with Senators Allan Spear, Mike Menning and Nick Coleman

MPR’s Debbie Gage reports on debate in Minnesota Senate chambers over gay rights bill, which would have given protection to gays in the areas of housing employment education and credit, but not sanction gay marriage or gay adoption. It also did not provide protection and public accommodations.

Minnesota Senator Allen Spear said the bill was the subject of a vicious lobbying campaign from so-called Christian groups. He asked to have the bill sent back to committee. Opponents of bill took issue with claims of bigotry.


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DEBBIE GAGE: The bill would have given protection to gays in the areas of housing, employment, education, and credit. It did not sanction gay marriage or gay adoption. It did not provide protection in public accommodations. But Spear said the bill was the subject of a vicious lobbying campaign from so-called Christian groups. He asked to have the bill sent back to committee.

ALLAN SPEAR: And I still believe that Christianity, that the broad message of Christianity has not been represented by the people that have been calling you, the small-minded, bigoted people who have been calling you over the last few days.

Many of you have come to me and said, I'm with you in my heart. But I can't take this pressure anymore. Well, I can understand that. But I have to say, in all frankness, that I can't admire it. The bottom line in this job is having the courage and having the guts to stand up for what you believe.

I know very well if there were a secret ballot in this issue, this bill would pass overwhelmingly. But the bottom line is what's up there on that board. And many of you have not been able to show the courage to stand up to your convictions and to what you believe in.

DEBBIE GAGE: Minneapolis DFL Senator Allan spear. White Bear Lake DFL Senator John Milton rose to support the bill. He said he's gotten over 100 calls since the bill was given preliminary approval Monday night. And he said he scorned that kind of pressure. But several others were offended at Spears remarks. Madison Lake DFL Senator Mike Menning gave a very emotional speech against the bill on Monday night, spoke again.

MIKE MENNING: This morning, I regretted the fact of being called a bigot. I regretted the fact that every Christian who calls themselves Christians here are called a bigot. I think that's sad. I think we've truly seen a sad day in the Minnesota State legislature.

I'd like to just tell you a couple of things, what's on my mind. A couple of reasons why this bill has gotten this far as what it did in the Minnesota State senate is because Senator Allan Spear has carried it. He's been an outstanding senator in many areas. He's well respected by the members of this body because he's been a hard worker.

I guess there are many more things that I would like to say. I had much testimony prepared. But I'm not going to go into those items. And once again, I just want to say, I think that we've reached a sad day when some comments like this have been made on the floor of the Minnesota State Senate.

DEBBIE GAGE: Madison Lake DFL Senator Mike Menning. Senate Majority Leader Nick Coleman, a co-author on the bill, supported Spear.

NICK COLEMAN: One of the frustrating things about the legislative process is the length of time it takes to get a new idea across. And I guess I've been pounding my head against the wall on a number of issues over the years. Sometimes they take two years to pass. And sometimes they take four. And sometimes they take never.

I don't know whether anybody is a bigot or not. But I do know that this is a sharply divisive issue. But I agree with Senator Spear that if we had a secret ballot, it would pass. Some very sincere people who oppose this bill very much have turned us all and run us down the hill on it.

Mr. President, members of the Senate, several years ago when I was the chief author, we passed a bill that had the essential provisions of Senator Spears bill without having the teacher provision in it. So now I regretfully note to the body that we are not only not making progress, but we're actually going backwards.

DEBBIE GAGE: Senate Majority Leader Nick Coleman. Gay rights lobbyist Stephen Dean said the callers appeared to be a coalition of Catholic and fundamentalist groups based in the metro area. Another thing which contributed to the opposition was a press release from Senator Florian Chmielewski.

Chmielewski said on the floor that he thought gays should not have civil rights without a constitutional amendment like the abortion advocates. But he said the press misinterpreted it to mean that he would try to amend rights for unborn children into the bill. I'm Debbie Gage at the Capitol.

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