MANKATO — The Mankato City Council voted 4-1 Monday to oppose a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
The policy position’s lack of legal effect didn’t stop Mankatoan Wil Bernstrom from crying in happiness after the vote. The Alabama native said he’d never before lived in a city that supported him as a person.
Supporters, including the council majority, cast the issue similarly; as one of support for human rights.
“We need to take a stand and let all people know that we’re an open and accepting city,” Councilwoman Tamra Rovney said. Council President Mike Laven, Councilman Jack Considine and Councilwoman Karen Foreman joined her in opposing the amendment.
Opponents said gay marriage isn’t the council’s business or supported the definition of marriage between one man and one woman.
Dan Wagner, who ran for mayor in 2006, said gay marriage should be decided by the voters.
“Streets, sewers, parks and property taxes. You were elected for those issues, not social ones,” he said.
Councilman Charlie Hurd agreed: “This is an important issue but not a city of Mankato issue.”
Councilman Mark Frost joined him in abstaining, and Mayor Eric Anderson voted against the resolution.
Many others testified in general about why the constitutional amendment is good or bad.
“Marriage is about the adult responsibility to nurture children,” Maryjo Goettl said.
Others, such as Tom Hoehn, used religious justifications.
“Biblical marriage is one man and one woman. Are we going to say that God got that wrong?” he said.
Amendment opponents repeatedly invoked the changing times and said the Mankato council would be on the wrong side of history if it didn’t oppose the amendment.
Diane Dobitz, of Mankato, quoted Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
Henderson resident Hayden Northrup said the amendment wouldn’t solely benefit gay people. His birth certificate says he is a woman “although I walk, talk and act like a man.” He is heterosexual, but cannot currently marry a woman because he is legally a woman.
Those who opposed the amendment in general asked the council to weigh in, while those who support banning gay marriage generally didn’t ask the council to pass a resolution agreeing with them.
It may be that supporters of gay marriage tend to see government having a wider sphere of responsibility. It could also be that opponents of gay marriage suspected there wasn’t a council majority ready to vote in favor of the amendment, though.
The public hearing was civil; there was little cheering or booing and no personal attacks.
“Nobody said anything to drag anyone into the sewer,” Frost said. Some of the few cheers came, ironically, after this praise for the crowd’s civility.
There were a few laughs, as when Wasecan Andrew Lenn said the amendment is unMinnesotan, “very un-Prairie Home Companion.”
After more than 140 minutes and 43 visitors to the podium, the council turned to the resolution. Hurd motioned to table the issue. It was voted down 4-3.
Laven accused some on the council of hypocrisy for voting in 2010 on another issue that was largely symbolic: a motion to ask former Mayor John Brady to resign. “They felt it was necessary to bring someone to a public humiliation,” he said.
Frost didn’t care for the comparison.
“It’s unfortunate you took that path, Mike,” he said, noting that almost no one used personal attacks. “Nobody did that tonight but you. Be aware of that.”
Three council members — Laven, Rovney and Hurd — are up for election this fall. And those who said Monday’s vote would have consequences generally supported the amendment.
Karlene Jaeger, who opposes gay marriage, said she would “hold members accountable for their individual decisions made tonight.”
Dennis Dieken said he’ll be waging a write-in campaign for Ward 2, Rovney’s seat. He called the debate unfair to the people of the city who disagreed with the council’s actions.
“As a candidate for City Council, I will state that I’d be very uncomfortable voting on issues of a very personal nature,” he said.
People said variously that the vote will either encourage or dissuade people from coming to Mankato.
“People come to a city or reject a city because it is family-friendly and they will support or reject a business for the same reason,” said Joseph LoJacono, associate pastor at SS Peter & Paul’s Catholic Church.
Foreman compared the issue to the hanging of 38 Native Americans in Mankato in 1862, and said many Native Americans have avoided Mankato since.