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Column: Get government out of the marriage business

Do you believe all Minnesota citizens should be treated equally?

As the rare Republican that opposed the marriage amendment two years ago, I've heard from many people who have encouraged me to protect marriage, and many others who say I should allow any adult to marry the person they love, regardless of their sex.

After much deliberation, I am carrying a bill that I believe fulfills both of these requests.

My civil union legislation would take government out of the private lives of Minnesotans, take the word "marriage" out of government statutes, and provide same-sex couples with the same legal freedoms as opposite-sex couples.

I've stayed consistent with my message on this issue. Two years ago, I did not believe it was government's duty to define what marriage means to a person, and for that same reason, I also oppose legislation that would allow same-sex marriage in Minnesota. This legislation simply tells government to recognize any "marriage" of same-sex or heterosexual couples as a civil union.

Think about it. Marriage is a religious activity. We are supposed to have a separation of church and state, yet government recognizes opposite-sex married couples and provides them with legal benefits and limitations that gay partners cannot acquire.

With my legislation there is equality for all. If a couple wants to pledge their love to each other and can find an institution or qualified official willing to conduct the ceremony, the state of Minnesota will recognize that agreement as a civil union. No one will be treated as a second-class citizen. No one will be treated "separate but equal." Under this bill, all are equal in the eyes of state government.

Times are changing. People's attitudes are changing. Gay individuals should have the same rights as heterosexuals, and I absolutely believe it is government's duty to protect individual freedoms and liberties.

But government and religion should not be interlinked.

It's your right to practice religion and to have an opinion on the institution of marriage. It is not government's right to define what marriage should be, as it should not be involved in religious activities in the first place.

If it's your belief that anyone should be able to marry the person they choose and be treated equally, and feel it's not government's duty to define what marriage should mean to an individual, know that my civil union bill will accomplish this goal.

The marriage debate has gone on for far too long, and too many millions of dollars have been wasted on an argument best left to the churches and all other religious organizations. It's time for Minnesota to get out of the religion business and time for it to protect everyone's personal freedoms and rights.

Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, can be reached at 651-380-4345 or rep.tim.kelly@house.mn.

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