Pawlenty to GOP: "Move on"by Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
Gov. Pawlenty says it's time to move on from the controversy surrounding Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson. Pawlenty, a Republican, says he'll ask GOP Party officials to back off in their criticism of the Willmar DFLer. Johnson has been under heavy fire, especially from Republicans and groups that support a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. He has admitted "sanding off the truth" about a conversation with a Supreme Court Justice on the issue of gay marriage.
St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Pawlenty chose diplomacy over denunciation when asked about the troubles plaguing the top democrat in the Legislature. Pawlenty said Dean Johnson made a big mistake and apologized for it. The governor says that's good enough for him
"From my standpoint, it should be handled like this: Senator Johnson has admitted that he's not been truthful. He's asked for forgiveness and second chance. We should give it to them and we should move on," he said.
Pawlenty said later in a statement that Johnson should provide a full explanation of what conversations took place with the justices.
The Willmar DFLer was secretly recorded telling a group of pastors in January that he talked with several Supreme Court justices about the issue of same-sex marriage. He apologized and said he embellished a conversation with only one judge.
Those comments were further challenged when the chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court said no one on the court ever talked about the issue with Johnson. Johnson said he's standing by his statement and is moving on.
Officials with the Minnesota Republican Party say they aren't ready to heed Pawlenty's call to put the matter behind them. Party spokesman Mark Drake says GOP officials have no plans to change course.
"I think you're going to continue to see Republicans keep pressing this from the state party and I think you're going to see legislative leaders speaking out about this as well," according to Drake.
Pawlenty's call to move on came just hours after supporters of a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage, civil unions and other legal equivalents rallied at the Capitol.
The rally drew several hundred people, some holding signs saying "Marriage is God's law" and "Wedding bells for Rick and Ruth not Rick and Dick."
Speakers at the rally quoted the Bible and used religious references throughout their speeches. Some urged prayer to get the full Senate to vote on the matter.
While the Republican-controlled House has passed the measure several times in the past three years, attempts to force a full Senate vote on the amendment proposal have failed. Senate DFLers say they want to let the normal committee process take its course. They also say it isn't necessary to put the measure on the ballot since the state already has a law defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
Supporters of the amendment are worried that the courts could overturn the law and want it in the constitution.
Pastor Wes Wheatley of Minneapolis says it's problematic if gays are allowed to marry as they can in Massachusetts.
"We are opening the door to untold destructive evils for our next generation," he said. "The concept of mother and father and child will be gone forever."
If the Senate passes the measure the November ballot would include a question asking whether the Minnesota Constitution should define marriage as between one man and one woman. If a majority of the people voting in that election vote yes, the constitution would ban same-sex marriages, civil unions and any other legal equivalents.
Ann DeGroot, the executive director of Out Front Minnesota, says the measure would have unintended consequences if became a part of the constitution.
"There are some situations around the country where this law has been interpreted to mean that if you're not married you can't have the same rights as other people regardless of your sexual orientation," according to DeGroot.
DeGroot says, for example, that the University of Toledo is no longer offering domestic partner benefits to its employees because of the amendment that passed Ohio in 2004. There have also been challenges to Ohio's domestic violence laws. Several plaintiffs say the marriage amendment means legal protections against domestic violence don't apply to unmarried couples.
Degroot says she's also worried that same-sex couples won't have the same legal benefits as heterosexual married couples, such as hospital visitation rights or the right to a leave from work when their partner gets sick or dies.
"The big thing that I think changes for us is that we have then said as a state that there is one group of people who are not as important as another group of people. We have said that it is OK to put discrimination into our constitution," she said.
DeGroot's organization will be holding a rally on Thursday to make their points to state lawmakers and the public at large.
- Morning Edition, 03/22/2006, 6:50 a.m.