Minnesota to become 12th marriage equality state

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

UPDATE: The governor will sign the bill at 5 p.m. May 14.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to sign a marriage equality bill as early as May 14, making the state the 12th in the nation to legalize civil marriage for same-sex couples.

The Minnesota Senate approved the bill 37-30 on May 13 after more than four hours of debate.

The debate began shortly after noon CST. Hours earlier, hundreds of supporters began gathering at the Capitol wearing blue and orange – the colors of the equality campaign.

The capital city of St. Paul celebrated the day — rainbow Pride flags flew on a downtown bridge renamed the Freedom to Marry bridge for the week.

The Senate was called to order shortly after 12 p.m. – after the crowd learned some rules – no demonstrations, no shouting, no applause until after a recess is called.

Sen. D. Scott Dibble, who is openly gay, presented the bill and noted that the House bill was amended to include “civil” before “marriage.”

Dibble, who sponsored the measure, described the bill as “simple” but “powerful,” strengthening families and democracy. “We’re giving people the freedom to marry in this bill,” he said.

The bill, he added, contains exemptions for religious institutions. “That’s the bill, pretty straightforward,” Dibble said.

State Sen. Terri Bonoff spoke second, as a co-author of the bill, noting that Minnesota was dealing with an issue being discussed across the country, and beyond.

A focus during the debate was on how – or whether – the legislation impacts businesses or professionals with religious missions or interests that are not considered part of religious institutions.

Dibble said regardless of what happened with marriage equality, the law already prohibits businesses or professionals from withholding the sale of goods or services from a minority people.

“Marriage (equality) doesn’t create that reality,” he said. “That’s true today.”

Still, an amendment was proposed to allow businesses with religious missions or whose owners have religious convictions to discriminate against people they don’t think should marry. Examples included a marriage adviser, a wedding photographer or a florist who didn’t want to work for a gay couple or an interracial couple.

Sen. Warren Limmer, an advocate of the amendment, said it was a narrow proposal that would protect the rights of conscientious objectors to same-sex marriage. “It’s trying to recognize the religious liberties of this state and this nation,” he said.

Dibble opposed the amendment, saying it threatened the state human rights law, which prohibits people from “picking and choosing” who they will serve in the marketplace.

“We don’t exclude folks in the public square,” he said, calling the amendment “breathtaking” in scope, damaging and unconstitutional.

Also arguing against the amendment, Sen. Ron Latz said the proposal “would authorize, legitimize – make explicitly lawful – discrimination against people because of who they marry.”

The amendment failed 26-41.

Moving into the final phase of debate, many senators talked about family and friends who are gay, about modern families and about how they were asked to vote on the right side of history.

Sen. Patricia Torres Ray explained her reasons for voting “yes” in Spanish. “There are some things that are worth fighting for: Marriage equality is one of those things,” she said.

Sen. Jeff Hayden recalled old laws against interracial marriage and said if they had remained he wouldn’t have been able to marry his wife and together they wouldn’t have their children.

Sen. John Marty said he was proud of Minnesota on a “beautiful day.”

Latz said, “Do not vote out of fear of your constituents or even of your family. Vote out of your own personal strength for what you know in your mind and in your heart is the right thing to do…”

In the closing arguments, Republican Branden Petersen, a co-author of the bill, said he could not vote “no” and feel he was doing his job well. He thanked his wife and told his children to be bold and courageous and they’d never regret a day in their lives.

Dibble said, “Today we have the power – the awesome, humbling power – to make dreams come true.” Those dreams are about a happy home, love, a family, a life shared.

“Vote yes for freedom. Vote yes for family. …Vote yes for love,” he added.

Majority Leader Tom Bakk had the last words in the debate, sharing the story of a close family friend who is gay and, as a minister, married so many couples but could not get married himself.

In the final vote, the tally was 37-30 for the marriage equality bill. 

Dayton’s signature on the bill would mean same-sex couples could begin marrying in the state on Aug. 1.

Last week, Delaware legalized same-sex marriage. The week before, Rhode Island legalized gay marriage.

“Minnesota is the third state in three weeks to enact marriage equality,” said Marriage Equality USA vice president Lisa Cannistraci. “We are more energized than ever by the rapidly accelerating pace of change nationwide.”

Last fall, voters in Maryland, Maine and Washington approved marriage equality for their states. Those votes were on the same day that Minnesota voters rejected a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

“Minnesota is a perfect example of the progress we’ve made on marriage equality in America,” said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin.  “Voters in Minnesota brought anti-equality efforts to a screeching halt on Election Day, and today state leaders in St. Paul made it clear that all Minnesota families are equal in the eyes of the law.”

Illinois is close to passing marriage equality legislation. The Senate has approved a bill and the governor has said he will sign a measure if it passes the House.

“It is our time,” said Bernard Cherkasov of Equality Illinois, the state’s oldest and largest advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender voters. “Gay and lesbian couples in Illinois and their families deserve to be recognized. If the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in June, as expected, and Illinois doesn’t recognize the freedom to marry now, then Illinois families will be further harmed.”