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A group of attorneys working to get the amendment passed has been adding members and rolling out a campaign of its own.

Lawyer group backs marriage amendment

Kevin Conneely

Says debate could be more civil

When it comes to going public on the marriage amendment that goes before voters in November, it’s been a fairly lopsided affair for lawyers.

Some 30 firms and 1,600 legal professionals have joined the Minnesotans United for All Families Coalition, a group working to defeat the amendment.

In a recent Star Tribune commentary, a group of managing partners and presidents at seven high profile Twin Cities firms argued the amendment, which would define marriage as between one man and one woman, would hurt the ability of Minnesota business to attract top-notch talent. They urged all members of the Minnesota bar to oppose it.

With less fanfare, a group of attorneys working to get the amendment passed has been adding members and rolling out a campaign of its own. Lawyers for Marriage, a group affiliated with larger Minnesotans for Marriage, formed last month.

About 40 attorneys have joined, and organizers expect more to step forward. The group plans to do outreach, public speaking, and serve as a resource for attorneys and other Minnesotans on the Vote Yes campaign.

Kevin Conneely, the group’s chairman and an attorney at Leonard Street and Deinard in Minneapolis, freely admits that if it wasn’t for the number of high profile lawyers with “lofty titles” who have recently made public statements against the amendment, his group might not exist.

He said he’s against law firms making public stands on either side of the issue and believes the debate in legal circles could be more civil. Members of his group are as dedicated in their beliefs as those on the other side, Conneely said. The response from legal professionals, including those in outstate Minnesota, has been positive, he said.

“People on both sides of this issue should be able to talk freely about it, and we can disagree, but I think as lawyers we have a special role to play to help the public learn about the issue and about how a constitutional amendment works in our state. As a profession, we can’t appear to be partisan,” he said. “We can be a place where like-minded attorneys can go without trading on their firm name.”

Teresa Collett, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, also joined the group. She said she has been surprised that so many law firms have waded in to the same sex marriage debate.

“I would have assumed that more firms would remain circumspect on political issues,” she said. “There is not unanimity in the legal profession on this issue and it was time for the other point of view to be heard.”

Same sex marriage is not recognized under Minnesota law. If the amendment passes the definition of marriage in Minnesota will be defined as between a man and a woman and codified in the state’s Constitution. Supporters say this is necessary to prevent future court decisions or legislatures or recognizing same sex marriage in the future.

Teresa Collett

They point to the case of Benson v. Alverson which was sent back to the district court earlier this year. In the case, a group of plaintiffs sued the Hennepin County Registrar for failure to provide them with a marriage license because they were same sex couples. The appellants argue that their rights were violated solely because they were same sex couples and that the Minnesota Defense of Marriage Act is a violation of their Minnesota Constitutional Rights.

Supporters of the amendment fear that if the plaintiffs prevail it could serve as a foothold to recognizing same sex marriage.

“It comes down to who gets to decide [how marriage should be defined] first? The people of Minnesota? or a judge or future lawmakers?” said Evan Wilson, an attorney with the Metropolitan Airports Commission. “I have seen a lot of focus and movement on the other side of this issue and I want people to hear what we have to say. That our existing definition of marriage is proper and amending the constitution to say that is necessary.”

Wilson, Collett and Conneely realize that not everyone agrees with their stand. Could a company like General Mills, who recently came out against the marriage amendment, factor in a lawyer’s views on the issue when shopping for legal counsel?

“I think there is a potential that people will be proud to work with you, or have you as their lawyer, if you are for the amendment,” Conneely said. “I am not worried about [losing any business] as a result of my thoughts on this issue. Joining this group allows me to speak in my individual capacity as an attorney and as a citizen-voter.”

Collett said that the University of St. Thomas has a policy that allows for employees to speak publically on political issues.

Wilson said he is acting in his individual capacity, and not as a reflection of his employer, by joining the Lawyers for Marriage group.

“This issue is important enough that I wanted to be involved in speaking out on. I can do that as an individual without bringing my employer with me,” he said.

4 comments

  1. Jeffrey Sheridan

    Perhaps the lack of civility perceived by the supporters has to do with our innability to believe anyone trained in the law would think permanently creating a second class of citizens in this state is a good idea. These folks’ religous beliefs may make the idea of same-sex marriage unacceptable to them, but they acknowledge that they are trying to bind future legislatures and courts to their narrow-minded point of view. I’m sure that the registered voters of the Jim Crow south would have had little trouble finding suppoort for an amendment to Alabama’s or Mississippi’s constitutions to prevent blacks and whites from marrying. Imagine how the citizens of those states would feel about that decision today. Thankfully, cultures evolve. The reason the religous zealots are pressing to incorporate their bigotry into the constitution today is that the same polls that show support for the amendment today show that people under the age of 35 overwhelming oppose permanently relegating gays to second class status. But if this passes, our children will be just as ashamed of our generation as we all are about the generation that passed the Jim Crow laws. The difference is that all they had to do is have their legislatures repeal those laws. There is a reason that politics has no place in our constitution. I urge you all to join Minnesotans United for All Families to make sure that hatred, intolerance and bigotry find no home in our constitution. Don’t let Minnesota become the 31st \Hate State.\

  2. Right, because the legal profession should spend more time trying to limit the rights and liberties of Minnesota’s families. And as for Collett, well, she’s the same person who made a name for herself trying to criminalize abortion. It seems Collett is all about family planning so long as she is the one doing the planning for everyone else’s family.

  3. Shouldn’t the focus of this article have been about the majority? Seems to me in reading it over again that the first paragraph should be your headline and the meager few who oppose the amendment would barely make final paragraph.

  4. “It comes down to who gets to decide [how marriage should be defined] first? The people of Minnesota? or a judge or future lawmakers?” said Evan Wilson

    This makes no sense. If the amendment passes, the people can never change their minds unless and until a future legislature sends another amendment out for a vote. If the amendment doesn’t pass, and a future court should take some action that the people don’t like, the legislature could send out an amendment at that time. Regardless, the current amendment is completely unnecessary to safeguard the right of the people and the legislature to be heard.

    It is disturbing that the state’s foundational document is being altered for no reason.

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