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Some see civil unions as continuing inequality

RED WING -- Rep. Tim Kelly said he proposed a civil union bill in the House of Representatives this week in an effort to ensure equal rights for all Minnesotans.

"It's not the government's role to try to define marriage," Kelly said in an interview Friday. "I do believe it's the government's role to treat everyone equally."

But some local groups and residents say the bill -- which would allow both gay and straight couples to join a civil union and would provide them the same rights married couples have -- would not provide the equality Kelly says it would.

"No matter how you cut it, civil unions are not marriage," said Bruce Ause of Red Wing Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. "It's kind of a second-class marriage. ... I would just as soon see efforts be put into full marriage and be done with it."

Red Wing resident and PFLAG member Judy Will agreed that Kelly's most recent measure falls short.

"I want full marriage benefits for my gay son, the same as my straight kids have," she said.

The Red Wing Human Rights Commission has not taken an official stance on the civil union proposal, Chair Barbara vonHaaren said. The group hasn't had a chance to discuss the issue, but will do so at its April 18 meeting.

However, speaking on behalf of herself, vonHaaren said she opposes the idea.

"I think that basically a civil union is nothing more than a Band-Aid to the issue of marriage equality," she said. "It's not the same. I believe all people are entitled to their basic human rights. Part of that is to love and marry whomever they please."

In fact, vonHaaren said Kelly's proposal would do nothing in terms of creating equality.

"I think it would be a step backwards almost," she said. "We still have not given everyone the same right to marry. We're still separating out certain people. That is not fair, it's not equal, it shouldn't be done that way."

However, Ause and Will said civil unions, though not exactly what they want, would be better than what same-sex couples are currently offered.

"I can understand what he's trying to do," Ause said. "It would be a step in the right direction compared to what is available now, but if you're looking at the big picture, no."

Ause added that he's "incredibly appreciative" of Kelly's efforts in defeating a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage.

Kelly was one of four Republican lawmakers to vote against that measure. Minnesotans defeated the amendment last November.

Kelly said his whole message then was that it's not government's role to define marriage. For him to support the gay marriage bills currently in legislation -- bills that he said help define marriage -- would be "hypocritical," he said.

Like Ause, Will said she is "forever grateful" to Kelly for the stand he took last year in the Legislature against putting the constitutional amendment on the ballot.

"I remain real respectful," she said. "He's earned my respect and he has my respect. ... But I want more for my son. I want full benefits."

Since the legislative deadline to propose bills has passed, Kelly said he will ask for an extension next week. If that fails, he said he will file the proposal as an amendment to the gay marriage bill.

"One way or another, we have to have the conversation," he said.

Don Davis of Forum News Service contributed to this report.