Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is scheduled to sign a marriage equality bill into law today at 5 p.m. at the state capitol, making Minnesota the 12th state to allow same-sex couples to marry.
The legislation, approved by the state Senate yesterday, continues an unprecedented momentum toward marriage equality, with Minnesota being the sixth state to approve marriage equality in the past six months and the third to do so in the past two weeks.
Rhode Island’s legislature and governor approved a marriage equality law May 2. Delaware’s legislature and governor did so May 7.
Meanwhile, time is running out for approval of a marriage equality bill in Illinois this year. The Illinois Senate passed the bill in February but the House adjourns May 31 and the Chicago Sun-Times says supporters still need three to five votes. Supporters believe they will get those votes and that the House may take up the vote Wednesday or Thursday this week. Democratic Governor Pat Quinn has been making a concerted push for votes.
For now, Minnesota’s approval means that 18 percent of the U.S. population now lives in a state which provides marriage equality. The law will go into effect Aug. 1.
Emotional debate in Minn. Senate
The Minnesota Senate, on a vote of 37 to 30, approved May 13 a version of the marriage equality bill approved by the House on May 9 by a vote of 75 to 59.
Sen. Scott Dibble of Minneapolis introduced the bill to the floor. He wrote a letter to his senate colleagues in February to acknowledge that he is gay and married his male partner in California in 2008 when same-sex couples could obtain marriage licenses there.
Sen. Terri Bonoff of Minnelonka spoke next, saying her brother acknowledged being gay several years ago and that her closest friend was a gay man who died of AIDS. She also spoke about gay neighbors and a gay intern in her office.
One senator speaking in opposition to the bill was Republican Sen. Warren Limmer of Maple Grove, who expressed concerns about the bill’s impact on religious freedom. Limmer said he believes the bill “tries to protect” religious practitioners but “doesn’t go far enough.”
Another Republican, Sen. Paul Gazelka of Nisswa, said people “trying to please their god” are asking them to “violate core principles.” He offered an amendment to exempt not just religious entities from the law but also “entities in connection with religious entities” and their volunteers and employees, as well as private individuals who believe marriage is between a man and a woman only.
Interestingly, a straight Republican senator stood to oppose Limmer and Gazelka and their amendment, saying no member of the senate had spent more time on examining the threats to religious liberty than himself. Sen. Branden Petersen of Andover said their concerns about the potential for infringement on religious liberties were simply “not true.”
Dibble, the openly gay senator, called the amendment “breathtaking” in its attempt to gut the bill and the state’s civil rights law, which prohibits discrimination based on all categories, including race.
“How could we possibly think about entertaining an amendment that contains the harshest religious discriminatory language?” asked Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, a Democratic-Farmer-Labor member from Minneapolis. She said it would exempt hospitals, nurses, doctors, pharmacy workers, and “any private person” from serving a gay person, claiming a religious belief to justify their discrimination.
The Senate rejected the amendment 26 to 41.
Sen. Torrey Westrom, a Republican from Elbow Lake, offered an amendment seeking to continue using the terms “mother” and “father” in relation to male-female marriages in state law. He said the marriage equality bill was using gender-neutral terms for same-sex couples but doesn’t specify that male-female couples could continue using gender specific terms.
Dibbles spoke against the amendment, saying it was “completely and totally unnecessarily” because the bill does not prohibit the use of gender-specific terms in the case of male-female couples.
The Senate rejected the second amendment by a vote of 31 to 36.
Later in the discussion, Westrom spoke against the overall bill, saying that “just 16 years ago,” the state had defined marriage as being only between one man and one woman.
“I think there are a lot of unintended consequences,” he said, echoing a term that has been commonly raised during state legislative debates on marriage equality bills.
“If marriage is about who you love, where will that stop?” asked Westrom.
Many supporters of the bill talked about gay family members, friends, and colleagues, and about civil rights laws generally.
In a speech before the final vote on the bill, Sen. Jeff Hayden (D-Minneapolis), an African American, said his children urged him to vote yes and said they did so because they have known same-sex couples. He also referenced the Loving v. Virginia case that established the right of interracial couples to marry, noting that that decision enabled him to marry his wife, who is white.
And in one of the more emotional speeches of the debate, Sen. Roger Reinert, his voice choking back tears, noted that his parents — who were watching from the gallery — had taught him to be tolerant. Reinert, a 43-year-old Democrat from Duluth, noted that he is single now but hopes to find someone who will love him. He said he would vote for the bill.
In the final speech, Senate Majority Leader Thomas Bakk spoke of a Lutheran pastor who officiated over his marriage and that of many family members, but could not have a marriage for himself.
During debate, a large crowd of supporters rallied in the state capitol rotunda, singing songs and chanting. A small number of opponents, most of whom appeared elderly, held female-male “Defend Marriage” signs and stood quietly.
Minn. House debate echoed Delaware
The debate in Minnesota House sounded often like debate last week in Delaware. There were the sounds of chants and singing of supporters heard in the hallways outside the chamber. There were several representatives who talked about the “unintended consequences” of allowing marriage for same-sex couples, about the possibility that it would lead to teaching young children in public school about homosexuality, and about the likely infringement on religious beliefs.
The bill on the House floor was introduced by long-time openly gay state Rep. Karen Clark who told other representatives of her parents’ support for her relationship and reminded the House that gay people pay taxes and vote like everyone else. Clark was on the floor of the Senate Monday when the bill passed the Senate.
Rep. Tim Faust (DFL) said he would have voted no on the bill but for the many conversations he had with same-sex couples, many of who quoted from the Bible to stand in favor of marriage equality.
(Marriage equality supporters packed the Minnesota State Capitol on May 13 as the Senate voted on a bill to allow same-sex couples to wed. Gov. Mark Drayton will sign the measure today. Photo via the Minnesota governor’s office.)