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Gays and Lesbians Could Lose State Protections in Minnesota

Bill Would Also Affect Transgender Protections

[MINNEAPOLIS] - A bill to remove protections for gays and lesbians from Minnesota's human rights law was introduced in the House on Thursday, and proponents say some form of repeal stands a better chance of passage than at any time since discrimination based on sexual orientation was added to the law in 1993.

Supporters of the bill say that they don't want people to be persecuted or harassed but that the law is doing just that to Christian conservatives and others who consider homosexuality a violation of God's law.

"I know a lady who was fired from her job because she disagreed with homosexual activities in her school," said Rep. Arlon Lindner, R-Corcoran, the bill's chief author.

The bill drew a harsh response from the Senate's only openly gay member, Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.

"Extremists in the Republican Party are overplaying their hand," he said. "Once people find out that in the proud tradition of Trent Lott they are trying to divide Minnesotans, this absolutely will backfire."

Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council, said changes to the law have a good chance of passing the Republican-controlled House.

"We've got a more conservative Legislature," he said. The council has strongly opposed what it calls "special protections" for gays and lesbians.

Prichard said that total repeal probably doesn't stand much chance in the Senate, where DFLers hold a narrow majority. But bills that undo special applications of the law might pass, he said.

"We're hearing complaints about cross-dressing in the schools," he said.

The law is "being used as a pretext to promote homosexuality in the schools, and there are lawsuits being filed against religious organizations whose beliefs conflict with hiring homosexuals," Prichard said.

Dibble said he immediately brought the threat of repeal up for discussion at a Senate DFL caucus meeting Thursday and hopes to persuade all DFL senators to stand against it. "I view this as a contest for the future of the state," he said.

Dibble said he found it particularly offensive that the bill would remove sexual orientation as a classification in the human-rights law's definition of Holocaust survivors and victims.

Deborah Talen, executive director of Rainbow Families, a nonprofit agency that advocates for gay and lesbian parents, said the bill is "mean-spirited" and a retreat from Minnesota's reputation as a champion of civil rights.

"We are still treated as 'less-thans' in our society," Talen said. "By striking this language, they are saying it's OK to discriminate in jobs, housing or public accommodations. . . . It's really endorsing discrimination, and the motivation is deep-seated."

A number of legislators, mostly Republicans, also have sought over the past year to undo a provision in state employee contracts that gives benefits to same-sex domestic partners. Dibble said he found it curious that a House bill to remove those benefits also was introduced Thursday.

Political landscape

A crucial factor in how far the legislation advances may be how Gov. Tim Pawlenty handles the emotional and highly divisive issue. In past votes, some conservative DFLers have voted against gay rights and some moderate Republicans have voted in favor of them.

Pawlenty, then a freshman legislator, voted in 1993 to include sexual orientation in the human rights law, which prohibits certain forms of discrimination based on such factors as race, ethnicity, religion and disability status. But as he sought the Republican gubernatorial endorsement last year, he told Republican activists that he regretted that vote. Pawlenty's aides could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

His predecessors, Republican Gov. Arne Carlson and Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura, were staunch defenders of gay rights. Certainty that they would veto any repeal of the law prevented advancement of bills in previous years.

Dibble said that however Pawlenty handles the issue, "he played up antigay credentials. We can draw a direct line back to him for encouraging this legislation."

Perhaps indicative of how hot the issue would be, Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston -- who is listed as an author -- said later Thursday that he will have his name removed as a sponsor.

Davids said he still intends to vote for repealing gay-rights language if it comes to the floor. But as chairman of a key House committee overseeing commerce, he said, he already has his hands full. "I signed on to the bill but I haven't really studied it. . . . I've got enough controversy," he said.

Copyright 2003 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

Editor's Note: If this bill becomes law, transgender people would also effectively be written out of the human rights code in the state of Minnesota, as they are currently covered under the definition of sexual orientation. Minneapolis residents would not be affected; they have been covered with a citywide ordinance since 1975.

Related Link

Full Text of H.F. No. 341, as introduced: 83rd Legislative Session (2003-2004)

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