Religious right pressure cooker gets to Koering
It was almost a year ago that Sen. Paul Koering (R-Fort Ripley) essentially outed himself as a gay person when he voted against moving the anti-gay marriage amendment proposed by Sen. Michelle Bachmann (R-Stillwater) out of committee and directly to the floor of the Senate for a vote. The very next morning, groups supporting the gay marriage ban starting running radio ads in Koering's district, and gave out his home phone number in the process. Within the week, caught up in a political firestorm, Koering decided to announce to the media that he was gay.
In an interview with City Pages last June, Koering claimed that he was against gay marriage, and that his vote was one disagreeing with procedure, "departing from the way we normally do business in the Senate...To make a motion to pull this out of committee and drag it right to the Senate floor, I just thought it was the wrong thing to do."
Flash forward to last Monday. Bachmann once again requested that her amendment be withdrawn from the Judiciary Committee and sent directly to the floor of the Senate. The President of the Senate, James Metzen (DFL-South St. Paul), ruled that it could not be done because the question had already been asked and answered last year, on the vote that turned Koering into a political lightning rod. Bachmann appealed, and asked for a floor vote on Metzen's ruling. Few were surprised that Bachmann's motion was defeated in the body where the DFL holds a majority. The jaw-dropper was that Paul Koering voted with her, essentially changing his position of a year ago.
If there was any doubt that Koering was truly flip-flopping rather than splitting procedural hairs on the subject, they were vanquished moments later. Sen. Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge), proposed that his own constitutional amendment bill opposing gay marriage bill, with the same language as Bachmann's bill, be moved out of committee and taken right to the senate floor--the exact same procedural move that Koering said was "the wrong thing to do." But Koering voted in favor of Nienow's proposal.
On February 27, Koering told MPR that he would not support any efforts by amendment supporters to deviate from standard Senate operations. But just a day later, a group known as Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage announced that they would launch a media campaign against a dozen senators standing for re-election in swing districts this November, referred to by MCDM as "the Gang of 12." Koering was the lone Republican targeted.
In the days leading up to his vote, Koering said that while he was opposed to gay marriage, he was troubled by the prospect that the amendment would infringe upon the rights and benefits of people who form civil unions. Yet neither proposed by Bachmann or Nienow softened language in the amendment that gay advocacy groups say would lay waste to those rights and benefits. "We are very disappointed that this issue has become so divisive that an openly gay man would vote against the best interests of his own community," says Ann DeGroot, executive director of Outfront Minnesota.
Koering himself has not returned calls from City Pages asking why he chose to change his position. Back in June, this is what he told us: "I have people on both sides who disagree with me, but at least they can't say I'm a hypocrite. I don't say one thing and do another."