Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., surprised and disappointed many University students and faculty members when he announced last week that he does not support gay marriages.
The issue of gay marriage rights has heated up recently as a bill, titled the Defense of Marriage Act, has moved through the U.S. House. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bob Starr, R-Ga., passed through the House Judiciary Committee 20-10 Wednesday and will go to a full House vote this summer.
The bill defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and allows states to not recognize marriages between same-sex partners that occur in other states. Although same-sex marriages are not currently legal in any states, efforts to legalize them in Hawaii have sparked national debate over the issue.
President Bill Clinton recently announced that he opposes gay marriages, and said he would support the current House bill.
Bart Clement, a member of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organization, said Clinton's announcement was needless gay bashing.
Wellstone has not made it clear if he will vote for the Senate version of the Defense of Marriage Act. The bill is scheduled for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing June 19.
Wellstone's press secretary Linda Marson isn't sure if the Senate bill will be similar to the current House bill. "He still has to see what the final wording on the bill is," she said. The Senate will vote on the bill this summer, she added.
Gay rights activists said they hope Wellstone votes against it.
"I hope he doesn't vote for the bill," Lee said. "The bill is a clear attack on certain members in our community by the radical right."
The Defense of Marriage Act is popular among political conservatives, and both leading Minnesota Republican Senate Candidates, Bert McKasy and Rudy Boschwitz, said they support the act.
"Rudy does support the legislation moving through Congress," said John Ullyot, Boschwitz's press secretary.
McKasy "is definitely for the act," said Pat Rosential, McKasy's press secretary. "Every civilized nation has recognized marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and we aren't about to change that. Even Wellstone recognizes that."
Wellstone said June 4 that he does not support gay marriages. He gave the announcement at a fund-raising event organized by the state's gay and lesbian community titled "Come Out for Wellstone."
Wellstone's announcement angered many gay rights supporters.
"I was very surprised considering he is such an active gay rights supporter," said College of Liberal Arts doctoral student Bart Clement, a member of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organization.
University DFL member David Lee does not agree with Wellstone's position.
"I disagree with him on that," Institute of Technology sophomore Lee said. "I think everyone should have the same basic benefits of marriage."
Wellstone did not make the announcement in his speech, but later, when a person at the fund-raising event asked him whether he was a supporter of gay marriage.
Some gay rights activists said Wellstone made the announcement because this is an election year.
"I think Wellstone's motivation is political survival," Clement said. "I think in his heart he is a gay marriage supporter."
The announcement has apparently not hurt Wellstone's approval much in the gay community. The gay and lesbian caucus voted to endorse Wellstone for Senate with 90 percent approval at the Democratic convention Saturday.
Beth Zemsky, coordinator at the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organization's programs office, said Wellstone is still a friend of gay issues.
"The GLBT has never had as good a friend as Paul Wellstone," Zemsky said. "He is a man of conviction. He does not believe in discrimination."
Zemsky said that Wellstone was the only U.S. Senator to be involved in the 1993 March on Washington for Gay, Lesbian and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation.
"Whether Paul believes in gay marriages is not the point," Zemsky said. "I don't need the federal government to validate my life. It's not about marriage, it's about the right to have someone I love in my life."
Several gay rights supporters said Wellstone's announcement shows his courage and convictions.
"Paul stands by his convictions, even if it unpopular," Zemsky said.