Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sex, Lies, and Audiotape

Secret tape of lawmaker stirs Minnesota's gay marriage debate


The Associated Press

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson apologized for remarks on gay marriage.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — One of Minnesota's top Democrats is catching grief after getting caught on tape telling a lie — or, as he put it, "sanding off the truth."

Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson was recorded assuring a group of pastors that several state Supreme Court justices had told him they would not legalize gay marriage.

His remarks, which surfaced last week, drew a rare public rebuke from the chief justice, who denied the statements, and caused criticism from Republicans and gay-marriage opponents.

Johnson, who is also a pastor, said he did not lie but admitted "embellishing" and making misstatements. He has tried to get past the issue, but Republicans and foes of gay marriage have seized on it.

Johnson's political opponents have issued daily press releases, called news conferences and launched a Web site,, to track Johnson's "ever-changing stories." This week, Senate Republicans also filed an ethics complaint; to resolve the complaint, Johnson agreed to apologize on the Senate floor.

Speaking in January to a group of rural pastors, Johnson said he had spoken with at least three current or former Supreme Court justices, who told him the high court would never overturn the state's Defense of Marriage law. In other words, a state law banning same-sex marriage was safe, so why amend the constitution?

Unknown to him, a pastor with close ties to gay-marriage opponents was in the audience, with a tape recorder clipped to his backpack.

When the controversy broke, Johnson revised his story, saying the remarks were based on a quick encounter with one justice.

That was not enough for Supreme Court Justice Russell Anderson, who called a news conference to deny that any justices spoke with Johnson about the issue.

Johnson was elected as a Republican in 1978 and rose to that party's top Senate post before becoming a Democrat in 2000, saying the GOP had moved too far to the right.

Besides being a longtime pastor, he is a brigadier general in the Minnesota National Guard.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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