In what may be a first in the nation for any attorney bar association, on March 13th the Board of Directors for the Minneapolis-based Hennepin County Bar Association unanimously passed a resolution calling upon its members to “take deliberate and meaningful action” to defeat a proposed amendment to the Minnesota state constitution that seeks to define marriage as “only a union of one man and one woman.”
With 8000 attorney-members, the Hennepin County Bar Association (HCBA) is the tenth largest bar association in the country. The HCBA has long supported LGBT rights, beginning in 2004, when its Board of Directors passed a resolution opposing any effort to amend the Minnesota Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. In 2010, the Board again weighed in against any restrictions on same-sex marriage.
The most recent HCBA Board resolution is different from prior resolutions in one significant way—it calls upon its members to actually work to oppose the anti-marriage amendment that will come before Minnesota voters in the November general election. Specifically, the resolution states:
Therefore, be it RESOLVED that the HCBA Board of Directors calls upon its members to take deliberate and meaningful action to defeat the proposed amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that would ban marriage for same-sex couples; specifically, HCBA members are urged to speak with family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues about the need to oppose this constitutional amendment, and to become involved in organized efforts to defeat the amendment, such as those coordinated by the group Minnesotans United for All Families.
At the Board of Directors meeting where the resolution was considered, numerous Board members spoke in favor of the resolution, citing in part the message that would be sent to people considering a move to Minnesota if the anti-marriage constitutional amendment passed.
Three attorneys (non-HCBA Board members) spoke out against the resolution, citing the need to let the courts resolve the legality of same-sex marriage. They also worried that passage of the resolution would unnecessarily “politicize” the HCBA.
In interests of full disclosure, this reporter, a licensed Minnesota attorney and bar association member, helped draft the resolution. Additionally, she spoke in support of the resolution, which included paraphrasing the “First they came for the Communists,” poem by Martin Niemoler.
In addition to passing the “call to action” resolution, the HCBA Board of Directors also voted to join the coalition of organizations spearheaded by Minnesotans United for All Families. Another Minnesota-based bar organization, the Minnesota State Bar Association, also opposes the proposed constitutional amendment and has similarly joined the Minnesotans United coalition. Together, the two bar associations comprise a majority of the attorneys in Minnesota.
The proposed constitutional anti-marriage amendment will be voted upon on November 6, 2012. Both sides of the amendment battle predict a close vote.