On the Winona City Council agenda for Monday night’s meeting is a resolution, which, if passed, would put council members on record as in opposition to the proposed Recognition of Marriage Constitutional Amendment. That amendment will be on the November 6, 2012, Minnesota ballot, when voters will decide whether “Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota” should be added to the state constitution. The resolution was sent to the City Council by the city’s Human Rights Commission (HRC).
The Winona City Council should decline to address this request because its vote would be meaningless, carry no authority, be divisive in the community, and the request is nothing more than a lobbying effort in opposition to the amendment by the HRC.
The HRC cites these duties as the rationale for asking the council to take this vote: “to secure for all citizens equal opportunity in housing, employment, public accommodations, public services, and education, and to work consistently to improve the human relations climate of the City of Winona and to assist the State Department of Human Rights in implementing the Minnesota State Act Against Discrimination.”
The HRC has no authority in this stated duty to ask the city to sign a resolution opposing a proposed state constitutional amendment before it has become law. Whether the proposed amendment will become law will be decided by individual voters in Minnesota in a secret ballot on November 6. It will then be the duty of the city and HRC to uphold the law of the state.
The mayor and city council members in Winona run on a nonpartisan ballot. It is up to the mayor and council members to make sure Winona runs in a fiscally responsible, legal manner. It is not up to the council to lobby for one political party’s platform or another, for or against amendments to the state’s constitution. Council members are bound by the laws of Minnesota and the United States—and the welfare of the citizens of Winona under the law, period. What a council member’s stance might be on gay marriage or abortion or merit pay for public school teachers is not germane to the city council or mayoral job.
Politically speaking, a council vote on the Human Rights Commissions’ resolution on this amendment is fraught with peril for the individual elected council member. There certainly are citizens on both sides of this issue in every city ward. The amendment is an issue that for many people is a religious one, or a family one—it may even pit a family against its church. Why risk affronting a constituent over an issue unrelated to the council’s duties?
That this request to council is a lobbying effort against passage of the “marriage amendment” by the HRC is evidenced by the language in the HRC’s resolution and supporting statement. Asking a city council to oppose a proposed state constitutional amendment is outside the purview of the HRC’s responsibilities.
In full disclosure, I must tell my readers that I have a “Vote No” sign in my yard.
The language of the proposed amendment, the resolution, and HRC statement can be found online in the city council agenda for August 20 here: http://126.96.36.199/weblink7/DocView.aspx?id=130755