Human Rights Commissioner discusses proposed amendments

With the election only a few more weeks away, students and community members gathered for another speech addressing the two hot topic election issues: the marriage and voter ID amendments. Hosted by the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), along with some other sponsors, Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey led the discussion in the Kirby Rafters at UMD last Wednesday. Lindsey spoke on what he referred to as our human rights.

Mayor Don Ness gave a brief introduction for Lindsey, where he shared some of his own views on the proposed amendments.

“When we look back at some of the most embarrassing chapters of our history, it’s when we use government to reduce the rights of specific people,” Ness said. “Unfortunately, we are seeing the same dynamic at play today.”

Lindsey took the stage for nearly an hour, where he discussed his views on how these amendments affect human rights.

“Minnesota should vote ‘no’ on the gay marriage amendment, and vote ‘no’ on the voter integrity amendment,” he said.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights is charged with keeping tabs on and eliminating discrimination in Minnesota by educating people about their rights under the state Human Rights Act.

“The role and responsibility for the commissioner is to speak out, especially on issues which have a disparate impact,” Lindsey said. “These amendments do have a disparate impact.”

He first shared his views on why he thinks the voters should vote “no” on the marriage amendment.

“Passage of the amendment sets a dangerous precedent that it’s perfectly acceptable for government to take away fundamental rights from individuals, solely because they belong to a disfavored group in society,” Lindsey said.

The marriage amendment proposal that will appear on the ballot in Minnesota, will add the legal definition of marriage as “between one man and one woman,” to the state constitution. This will make it nearly impossible for same-sex marriage to be legalized in the future.

“The passage of the (marriage) amendment will invent prejudice against individuals who are homosexual,” Lindsey said. “When we allow the constitution to be amended in such way, for this minority group which has a history of being disfavored, are we heading down a slippery slope where it will be OK to take the next set of rights away from that minority group?”

Lindsey then switched gears to talk about the voter ID amendment also on the ballot. This amendment would require that a voter must present photo identification in order to cast their vote in future elections. Critics claim this would disenfranchise voters who might not already have proper ID.

Lindsey argued that this amendment creates unnecessary barriers that will inevitably hurt voter turnout. He pointed out the idea that the measures taken by this amendment will do nothing to curb the voter fraud it seeks to eliminate.

“We need to be having a conversation about getting rid of these barriers,” said Lindsey. “We need to be moving forward. These amendments move us backwards.”


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