To the editor:
Marriage amendment: Do I believe same sex couples should be able to marry?
Most definitely: because I believe their reasons to marry are no less valid or meaningful than mine; because I believe marriage between committed loving couples (gay or straight) strengthens families and strengthens society; because I believe that no amount of legal documents afford same sex couples the myriad (yes, there are hundreds) rights, privileges, relationship acknowledgement, understanding and acceptance accorded to two people instantly and automatically when they share that word: married.
However, the Marriage Amendment on the ballot in November asks a different question:
The question is not: 'Should same sex couples be allowed or denied the right to marry?'
The question is: Should the Minnesota Constitution be changed so that the denial of that right is written into the Minnesota Constitution?
When the Legislature agreed in May 2011 to send this amendment question to the ballot, 51percent of Minnesotans favored the amendment, 40 percent opposed. Since then support for the amendment has decreased and opposition has increased. The most recent poll has 47 percent in favor of the amendment, 46 percent opposed to the amendment. This Minnesota trend follows a nationwide trend, as people come to realize that homosexual men and women are not some "other," but are our friends, neighbors, coworkers and family members. I think that in two years or five years or 10, Minnesotans would not even consider such an amendment. Yet now it is almost certain that the decision on this amendment will be close - it is quite possible that just a few votes will decide whether we amend our constitution or do not. Let's look at the consequences of this very close decision.
If the voters Choose YES: what happens? Our Minnesota Constitution would be changed. Our Constitution (as opposed to state law) would deny marriage in Minnesota to same sex couples.
If the voters Chose NO: what happens? Nothing. Our Minnesota Constitution remains the same. Gay marriage would not be legal in Minnesota (current state law) Nothing happens. Nothing changes.
Such a drastic difference in outcomes - a change to our constitution opposed by approximately half of Minnesotans, a change likely to be regretted by a larger and larger majority as time passes, OR simply maintaining the current status of our state. A drastic difference.
Voter ID amendment: Of the 33 states that have some form of Voter ID law, only one state, Mississippi, has put it in the state constitution. Putting it into our constitution (instead of the usual way, passing laws) binds our legislature with unclear restrictionsforcing laws that the public may neither intend nor anticipate. Unfortunately, voters have even more 'unknowns' at the voting booth, because many restrictive words of the amendment do not appear on the ballot question.
The 'Voter ID' statement on the ballot is: "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?"
However, the actual amendment to the Constitution consists of five sentences quoted below:
1. "All voters voting in person must present valid government-issued photographic identification before receiving a ballot."
"Government-issued" Must they have current addresses? Do student ID's "count"?
How does one get an ID without a birth certificate? What exactly is required? People have said. "It's not a big deal I have to show an ID to drive a car, fly in a plane, buy alcohol" But, there are thousands of Minnesotans who do none of those things. They have the same right to vote.
2. "The state must issue photographic identification at no charge to an eligible voter who does not have a form of identification meeting the requirements of this section."
Clearly the ID should be issued at no charge to the voter. But this is a cost that makes this an expensive proposition for the state. It also does not address the cost to the individual of getting birth records or whatever is needed to verify identity, nor the problem of travel for people for whom that is difficult or impossible.
3. "A voter unable to present government-issued photographic identification must be permitted to submit a provisional ballot."
Provisional balloting institutes a new system with costs to implement and possible long delays in knowing the results of some elections as the provisional ballots cannot be counted until certified.
4. "A provisional ballot must only be counted if the voter certifies the provisional ballot in the manner provided by law."
How does the voter certify the ballot? How much time is allowed?
5. "All voters, including those not voting in person, must be subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification prior to a ballot being cast or counted."
It is not clear how mail-in and absentee voters can meet this requirement. It also seems to eliminate same-day registration, since eligibility for those voters could not be verified in a way "substantially equivalent" to those registering early.
If the amendment passes, the Legislature must find resolutions to these and other questions. They are bound by those words, which legislation cannot change. While I believe a Voter ID law is unnecessary and troubling in a state with a stellar voting record both regarding voter turnout and voting integrity, if the amendment does not pass, the legislature is still free to craft a clear and unambiguous Voter ID law one that can be changed with technological advances, one that is not hampered by a constitutional amendment.