In Minnesota, Enough Is Enough

In Minnesota, Enough Is Enough

GOP state senator comes out after voting against an amendment to bar gay marriage

A gay Republican state senator in Minnesota has come out shortly after casting a vote against a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

“God has a plan for everybody,” said state Sen. Paul Koering, 40.

Koering said that his decision to come out started to come together on April 7, which was a gay and lesbian lobby day with 2,500 people at the capital in St. Paul organized by Out Front Minnesota. It was also the second anniversary of his mother’s death, and the day fellow Republican State Sen. Michele Bachmann decided to move her bill to put a constitutional same-sex marriage ban amendment before the voters.

Koering, who represents the 12th Senate District in Minnesota’s rural center, broke ranks with his party to vote against the move.

“My vote may have been different if it was two weeks earlier,” he noted.

Koering said the mean-spirited air in the chamber brought him to tears, adding that a fellow Republican tried to talk him out of casting a “no” vote.

“You get to the point where you just get tired of it,” said Koering. “There’s always been a whisper campaign [about my sexual orientation] and they watch my vote extra close.”

The bill lost a procedural motion in the Democratic-controlled chamber 36-30 and remains bottled up in committee for now.

Still, the bill’s proponents, the anti-gay Minnesota for Marriage, which is affiliated with the Family Research Council, have begun running ads saying it was Koering’s vote that stopped the amendment.

The measure, which also passed the House last year but never came to a Senate vote, could still be voted out of the committee onto the Senate floor this year.

Last year it was Koering’s lobbying of his GOP caucus that kept a repeal of the state’s 12-year-old gay equal rights law off the Senate floor after it passed the House. Republicans had a thin majority.

“I killed it internally,” said Koering, “Leadership went to the center and didn’t take it up.”

Koering said he told fellow Republicans that passing the repeal bill was a bad vote because it would make it difficult for them to gain seats and take the majority.

For them, said Koering, “that confirmed I was gay.”

“A couple of Republicans in the House broke ranks and voted against the bill, but no one asks them questions,” said Koering. “I am a target because I am gay.”

Koering said that action caused someone to anonymously stuff flyers in editions of his hometown newspaper saying that children were being exposed to anal sex, barebacking and fisting in grade school, and that people should call him to convince him to support the bill.

“I never got a call,” Koering said.

Koering was elected to the Minnesota Senate in 2002, defeating then-Senate Pres. Don Samuelson by 138 votes. It was his third attempt at defeating Samuelson, the first two being in 1996 and 2000. Samuelson was in the Senate since 1968.

Prior to the 1996 run, Koering, a dairy farmer, had been elected to the farm bureau board. Before that, he had no interest in politics or party affiliation.

Koering said when he decided to run, he chose to be a Republican because he is a Roman Catholic, opposes abortion and is a hunter who supports gun rights.

“I was always afraid people would find out I was gay,” said Koering. “I never lied to anyone, but no one ever had the balls to ask me. When they asked if I was married, I told them I was busy milking cows.”

While attending the 1996 Minnesota Republican Convention, Koering said he was first exposed to how anti-gay his party is when he heard a speaker surrounded by young children end a gay-bashing speech with, “If we can’t get them with a bullet, we’ll get them with the ballot.”

Koering said he left and went to lunch with other gay Republicans, and learned that not all were that way.

“I’m making a difference in the Republican Party today,” said Koering, but now that he is making his sexual orientation public, Koering said he is concerned about getting re-elected in 2006.

“I have to see if I can get the party’s endorsement,” said Koering, “but I’m more worried about going to the grocery store or the laundromat where people will confront me and be all pissed off.

“I can’t change who I am, nor would I for the sake of being elected,” Koering continued. “If I don’t get re-elected, life is still going to go on for me.”

Other factors also contributed to Koering’s April 13 announcement that he is gay.

“It’s been ramping up for the last couple of months,” said Koering, explaining that daily newspapers including the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press have contacted him to talk about his sexual orientation.

“It hampers my ability to get [senate] work done,” said Koering. “If people want to know, I will tell them and put it behind me.”

A March 31 phone call from blogger Mike Rogers also contributed to the decision. Rogers’ blog has outed gay Republicans in Congress who vote against gay issues, including David Dreier of California and Ed Schrock of Virginia.

Rogers was tipped through his Web site that Koering might be gay, and later was given photos of Koering at the Minneapolis gay bar Boom.

Rogers said he was not going to out Koering.

But Koering said, “It got me thinking.”

The lawmaker said the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund of Washington, D.C. was helpful to him once he decided to come out.

“They tried to help me anticipate what I might be asked, so I wouldn’t hurt myself,” said Koering.

Koering said he contacted the Log Cabin Republican president, Patrick Guerriero, for advice after seeing him on C-SPAN. He said that six weeks later, Guerriero has not gotten back to him.

“I feel like I have just taken a breath and can’t let it out,” said Koering

Koering, who joins openly gay Sen. Scott Dibble, a Democrat, in the Minnesota Senate, has historical company. The nation’s first openly gay state lawmaker was Allan Spear, who came out in the Minnesota Senate in 1974.

Eric Resnick is a staff writer for the Gay People’s Chronicle in Ohio.