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Erik Burgess, Published September 01 2012

Moorhead unlikely to step into gay marriage fray

MOORHEAD – The City Council here isn’t eager to officially weigh in on same-sex marriage.

Several council members say Moorhead will not join the 13 cities that have taken an official position on the proposal to place in the Minnesota constitution a ban on same-sex marriage, an initiative that will be on statewide ballots Nov. 6.

All of those cities that have voted on it – including Duluth, Mankato, Minneapolis and St. Paul – have sided against the ban in non-binding resolutions.

The council is busy on the budget, some members said. Also, a vote on a similar topic in 2010 still lingers in the minds of some.

“I’ve had folks in Moorhead who’ve asked me about it, and I’ve been quite candid with them,” Councilman Mark Altenburg said. “I don’t think it would pass.”

Councilwoman Nancy Otto said an issue like the same-sex marriage vote should not be decided by the council, which is supposed to be non-partisan.

“I don’t like to get into partisanship type of issues,” she said. “I would just as soon we take on our local issues.”

Other communities that have passed such a resolution have cited the desire to let their residents, as well as outsiders, know where they stand. Duluth was the first city to vote against the ban, back in December. Roseville and Mankato passed resolutions in August.

Such a vote in Moorhead would harken back to two years ago, when the council voted down 5-3 a proposed ordinance to establish a domestic partnership registry for the city. Backers said the registry could have helped domestic partners receive employment benefits.

Four of the five council members who voted against that motion are still on the council, one reason why Altenburg thinks bringing up a resolution regarding the marriage amendment

wouldn’t fly. “To drag that up again, unfortunately, I think is going to create bad feelings,” he said.

Altenburg, who voted in favor of domestic registries in 2010, said the vote left some council members bitter. The other two pro-registry votes are no longer on the council, and Altenburg said he and Heidi Durand would likely be the only members who would vote for a stand against the gay marriage ban.

Current council members Otto, Luther Stueland, Brenda Elmer and Mark Hintermeyer voted against the domestic registry ordinance.

Still, the two issues are different. The domestic registry would’ve been maintained by the city, but marriage is a state issue, Mayor Mark Voxland said.

“We don’t deal with marriage licenses on the city level,” Voxland said. “It’s not something that the city focuses on or has anything to do with.”

Hintermeyer argued that some city issues are contentious enough and discussing hard issues outside the city’s control fractures the council.

“You can very quickly poison the water (and) set the tone of your council so that you start becoming contentious for no reason at all, just because you’re mad at the other council members,” Hintermeyer said.

Altenburg expressed support for the cities that have passed resolutions, saying it helps them express openness to potential businesses and residents.

“These communities see it as a competitive advantage, and honestly they feel it in their hearts, too, that this is just the wrong way to go in the 21st Century,” he said. “But it’s going to take time for some people to get to that point.”

The council not taking a side on the gay-marriage ban shouldn’t affect how residents view the city, Hintermeyer and Otto said.

“I don’t think it’s an issue that the council needs to get involved in, so I don’t think it reflects on the community one way or the other,” Hintermeyer said.

Where it passed

Thirteen Minnesota cities have passed resolutions opposing a ballot initiative up for a vote in November that would place in the state Constitution a prohibition on same-sex marriage:

Duluth, Dec. 19, 2011

St. Paul, Jan. 25, 2012

Minneapolis, Jan. 26, 2012

St. Louis Park, March 3, 2012

Edina, March 20, 2012

Falcon Heights, April 11, 2012

Golden Valley, May 1, 2012

Maplewood, June 11, 2012

Crystal, June 12, 2012

Robbinsdale, June 19, 2012

Mountain Iron, July 2, 2012

Mankato, Aug. 13, 2012

Roseville, Aug. 27, 2012

Source: http://mnunited.org/cities/

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518