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Gay-rights activists rally at Capitol

Area residents join in rally for gay rights
Four members of Red Wing's Parents, Families and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG) join about a thousand people on Thursday rallying in support of gay rights in front of the Minnesota Capitol. From left to right are husband and wife Burt and Judy Will and husband and wife Kathy and Bruce Ause.

ST. PAUL — Red Wing couple Bruce and Kathy Ause braved the blustery weather on Thursday to join about 1,000 people rallying in front of the Minnesota Capitol in support of gay rights.

For them, showing up was a way to fight to ensure their gay daughter has the same rights as heterosexual people do in the state.

"We have three daughters, and two of them have the same benefits that Kathy and I have, and the other daughter is treated as a second-class citizen, plain and simple. And that's wrong," Bruce Ause said.

The rally drew a strong turnout from southeastern Minnesota, with people from Rochester and Austin riding up on buses to participate.

The rally, sponsored by OutFront Minnesota, comes as Republicans are in control of both the Minnesota House and Senate for the first time in decades, which raises fears that GOP lawmakers will seek to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2012 that would ban gay marriage. The proposed amendment would not have to be approved by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.


Dayton told the crowd that he believes the day is coming when gay marriage will be allowed in Minnesota but that it will have to wait because of the GOP-led Legislature.

"We will achieve that American idea, that American dream for all Minnesotans, and we'll do it soon," Dayton said.

Supporters of a constitutional amendment define marriage as between a man and a women. Chuck Darrell, communications director for the Minnesota Family Council, said voters should be able to weigh in on gay marriage. He said that a poll taken in January shows that 74 percent of Minnesotans want to vote on the issue.

"What is important is that this is simply about letting the people vote," Darrell said.

His organization has posted a petition on its website calling on lawmakers to move ahead with a proposed constitutional amendment this year.

Gay rights supporters said they will fight back. An emotional Jeff Wilfahrt talked about his son, Army Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt, who was killed in Afghanistan when insurgents attacked his patrol with a bomb. His son was gay. The soldier's father vowed if such a constitutional amendment were to pass, he would fight it all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

"I hope my son didn't die for human beings, for Americans and for Minnesotans who would deny him civil rights," he said.

Zach Boyce was among about 30 gay-rights activists from Rochester who went to St. Paul for the rally and to lobby lawmakers. Boyce said he is disappointed that his new state representative, Mike Benson, R-Rochester, supports such an amendment. He said he wanted to meet with him anyway to make his case.


"I wanted to come and talk to them and show them that I am a face, I am a hard-working taxpayer," he said.

Benson supports a constitutional amendment that would prohibit gay marriage.

"I think it's one of those issues that needs to go before the people. I don't want the Legislature to decide, and I don't want a judge to decide," he said.

Benson said the Legislature's focus at the moment is to solve the state's projected $5 billion budget deficit, but he expects an amendment proposal will be introduced either this year or next.

Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, attended the rally and said she believes it is wrong to put such a question before voters.

"People should have the right to marry the person of their choice without regard to gender, and I think it would be wrong to let the majority vote on whether a minority should have that right," she said.

Among those speaking out in the crowd was Rochester resident Bob Werner, who wore a gorilla suit and carried a sign that read, "Tell your legislators: Don't monkey with the constitution." He said there is greater urgency in the gay community to speak out.

"There are a lot of anti-gay politicians that got elected in this last election," he said. "And so I think there is a sense more than ever that we need to make our voices heard and show that we care about our fellow Rochester citizens, family members and co-workers."

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