ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Gov. Mark Dayton Thursday became the first sitting Minnesota governor to speak at Outfront Minnesota's annual gay equality rally. The event, for gay persons and their straight supporters, drew nearly 1,000 persons to the Capitol on a cold and blustery day.
"I'm here to support those Minnesotans and Americans who want the same rights, freedoms, opportunity, respect, dignity and legal protections and legal opportunities as every other one of their fellow citizens," Dayton told the crowd, "Which is the founding principal of this country!"
By contrast, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty was a strong supporter of a constitutional ban on gay unions. Pawlenty also consistently vetoed any legislation, including anti-bullying measures, that used the words "sexual orientation" or "sexuality" to describe the basis for discrimination.
When Dayton finished his remarks he introduced Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt of Rosemount, parents of Corporal Andrew Wilfahrt, a military policeman killed in Afghanistan six weeks ago.
"We had a son. He was gay. He didn't choose it," Jeff Wilfahrt said of his son, who was 31 when he was struck down by a roadside bomb.
He said Andrew didn't have a significant other, but if he had left being a partner that person wouldn't have had the same rights as other surviving military spouses.
"There would've been no survivor's death benefit, no trip to Dover to meet the casket, no legal recognition of that bond," Wilfahrt told reporters after his tearful speech.
He said Minnesota needs to separate the secular province of legal marriage from the religious institution of marriage.
"If two people want to engage in a lifelong commitment they should have a right to do that," he explained, "Call it a civil union, call it what you will, and churches can continue to recognize the marriages they wish to honor."
The new Republican majority in the state legislature is moving in the opposite direction, however. They're expected to put a constitutional ban on gay marriages and civil unions on the 2012 ballot.
It only takes a simple majority to place an amendment on the ballot, and governors do not have the power to veto bills that contain constitutional questions.
The Minnesota Family Council is leading the charge to put a gay marriage amendment before voters.
"When 74 percent of Minnesotans say look, we should be able to vote on this issue and decide it for ourselves, rather than the legislature, then it's time for the legislature to pass a marriage amendment and get it on the ballot so people can decide," Chuck Darrell of the family council told KARE.
(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)