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Patrick Springer, Published May 10 2012

Obama’s stand on gay marriage a touchstone

FARGO – President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage someday will be seen as a social watershed in the nation’s history.

That’s the view of Edna Szymanski, president of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and one of a number of local leaders contacted Thursday for their view of Obama’s announcement.

“Years from now, I think the president’s statement will stand out as a significant milestone in our nation’s evolving conversation on this challenging topic,” she said. “There remains a wide divide, to be sure, but our society does have a history of reaching consensus on difficult issues.”

Colleen Sheehy, director of the Plains Art Museum, applauded Obama’s pronouncement.

“Personally, I think it’s a visionary position that’s in keeping with the values of the United States, which is equality under the law,” she said. “The art world is very supportive of equality of all kinds.”

But Rep. Bette Grande, R-Fargo, said voters in states repeatedly have decided to ban gay marriage, with North Carolina the latest example.

“Obviously, public opinion is not evolving,” Grande said. She called Obama’s statement “a political football that he’s moving around to see when and how he can raise money, is truly how I saw it.”

North Dakota voted overwhelmingly in 2004 to enact a ban on gay marriage by amending the state’s constitution, a vote Grande said remains the best barometer of public opinion in the state.

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, said he is concerned about discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

“Each and every person has intrinsic worth no matter their sexual orientation,” he said. “The president is highlighting one area of public policy that touches on that. We all have to figure out how that intrinsic truth gets implemented in public policy.”

Mathern added, “I have been of the view that could be done in the public policy realm of civil union.”

Local mayors said they really haven’t given the issue of gay marriage a lot of thought.

“I really don’t have any opinion at all,” Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said. “I really don’t.”

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland noted that Minnesota voters will decide this fall whether to approve a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

“I don’t know where I am on this one,” Voxland said. “To me, it’s not something that government should even be fussing with.”

West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern said the issue hasn’t “been high on my agenda list.” He sees it as a personal decision.

“I guess I haven’t given it much thought,” he said. “I don’t really favor gay marriage. On the other hand, I think it’s probably none of my business. I know that sounds wishy-washy, but that’s how I feel.”

William Craft, president of Concordia College, declined through a spokesman to comment.

“The president is not available for comment because it’s not the practice of this institution to offer commentary on the pronouncements of public officials,” said Roger Degerman, Concordia’s senior director for communications and marketing.

Dean Bresciani, president of North Dakota State University, was not available for comment Thursday because of a busy schedule, a spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, a Fargo man who is leading a petition drive to try to overturn North Dakota’s constitutional ban of gay marriage, said he hopes to have the sponsoring committee named soon.

Lenny Tweeden, a gay man who wants to overturn the ban, welcomed Obama’s support for gay marriage.

“It’s the first time a president has come out and supported gay marriage,” Tweeden said. “It’s historic, is how I see it.”

Despite the recent vote by North Carolina voters to ban gay marriage, Tweeden believes public support for gay marriage is building.

“It’s the young people,” he said. “You look at the younger generation, and the support is really high.”

Szymanski noted that Americans’ thinking on racial and gender equity has changed dramatically over the past five decades.

“Those conversations were neither quick or easy, nor are they over, but they show how our collective thinking can evolve,” she said.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522