By BRIAN BAKST, Associated Press
A November ballot measure that would write Minnesota’s same-sex marriage ban into the state constitution landed in court Monday, as backers moved to block two state officials from changing its title in a way they say casts the measure in a negative light.
More than a dozen Republican lawmakers joined the pro-amendment group, Minnesota for Marriage, in filing a petition with the Minnesota Supreme Court seeking to restore an original title that will appear above the question voters will decide. The case is expected to be swiftly considered.
Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie announced last month that he had revised the amendment title from “Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman” to “Limiting the Status of Marriage to Opposite Sex Couples.” Attorney General Lori Swanson, also a Democrat, validated the change.
Amendment supporters said the officials lacked authority to rewrite the title that lawmakers approved in 2011. Republican Sen. Warren Limmer said the old wording was crafted to be neutral whereas the word “limiting” could give people pause immediately before they vote.
“Those words are definitely considered negative and misleading, and I believe they’re created to sway the voter,” said Limmer, who sponsored the bill placing the issue before voters.
Limmer said the new language is faulty because state law already defines marriage as between one man and one woman. The substitute title, he said, creates the impression that the state’s posture toward marriage is changing.
Those behind the amendment push preferred wording that focuses on the traditional definition of marriage. They circulated video clips of a Senate floor debate where the title was written. In the debate, Democratic Sen. Scott Dibble, who is openly gay, offered the language as it appeared in the final legislation.
Ritchie hasn’t been made available for questions since announcing the title switch. Pat Turgeon, a spokeswoman for Ritchie, said Monday the office won’t comment now that litigation is pending. Ben Wogsland, a spokesman for Swanson, said the attorney general would respond through court filings and withhold public comment until then.
Letters exchanged in June between the offices of Ritchie and Swanson point to a state law under which “the secretary of state shall provide an appropriate title for each question.”
Ritchie has yet to formally declare a title for a second ballot question for an amendment to require that voters show a government-issued photo ID at polling places. That measure is also before the Supreme Court because opponents say the question is vague and misleading.
A group aiming to defeat the marriage amendment has said the new title is acceptable from its vantage point. An official with Minnesotans United for All Families noted that nothing in the actual question has changed.
It will read: “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?”