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Senate, House committees pass bill to legalize gay marriage

Briana Bierschbach//March 12, 2013

Senate, House committees pass bill to legalize gay marriage

Briana Bierschbach//March 12, 2013

DFL Sen. Scott Dibble

Democratic lawmakers have moved a bill to legalize gay marriage through the committee process and will now prepare for a likely late-session floor vote in both chambers.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill on a 5-3 party-line vote after nearly three hours of discussion on Tuesday. The House Civil Law Committee passed the bill in the evening on a 10-7 vote that also fell along party lines. The hearings attracted families, couples, religious leaders, children and business executives from around the state to testify for or against the bill.  The bills have no more stops before they head for a full floor vote.

“In Minnesota it should not be illegal to marry the person you love,” said DFL Sen. Scott Dibble, an openly gay senator from Minneapolis and sponsor of the bill. “Freedom isn’t just for some of us, it’s for all of us.”

Lawmakers in St. Paul have been debating gay marriage for more than a decade. Two years ago, Republican lawmakers passed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. That amendment failed by 5 percent of the vote last fall, and some say now is the time to legalize gay marriage in the state. Others says Democrats — who now control state government — should be focusing on the state budget instead of social issues.

There was little anticipation in the proceedings of the DFL-led committees. DFL Sen. Barb Goodwin expressed hesitation about the timing of the bill ahead of the committee hearing, but when it came time to vote, she said she fully supports gay marriage. “My concern is that we need to make sure that, when this goes on the floor, we have enough votes to pass it,” Goodwin said. “I don’t want to see it fail.” DFL Rep. Melissa Hortman, a co-sponsor of the bill, acknowledged the political risks for Democrats to vote for gay marriage this session. “We do this at our peril,” she said.

Arguments for and against the bill overlapped in the two committees, and supporters of the bill outnumbered opponents at the testifying table.  DFL Rep. Karen Clark, the bill’s sponsor in the chamber, produced a photo of her parents protesting for gay rights in 1993. “No one should be told you can’t marry the person you love, including me,” said Clark, who is also openly gay.

Jason Reitan and his family said they hope he can one day get married like his siblings; Carlson Cos. chair Marylin Carlson Nelson said discriminating against same-sex couples hurts business recruitment; former Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner said public policy needs to catch up with “public attitudes” on same-sex marriages.

Former Republican state Rep. Lynne Osterman said she regrets her “politically expedient” vote in favor of a strengthening the state’s anti-gay marriage laws nearly a decade ago. “Voting no today, this session, might seem politically expedient, but I’m telling you today that you will have to live knowing that a no vote is not fair,” said Osterman. “I’m imploring you, please get this right.”

Opponents argued that legalizing same-sex marriage would strip the definitions of “mother” and “father” from state law. “‘Mother’ and ‘father’ aren’t gender-neutral words. That’s fiction,” Katherine Kersten, a senior fellow with the Center for the American Experiment, said in the Senate hearing. “All Minnesotans have a mother and a father, female and male, respectively. Our state’s legislators may view themselves as powerful, but they can’t repeal this fact of human biology.”

Grace Evans, 11 told the House committee that every child should have an opportunity to have a mother and a father. “Which parent do I not need, my mom or my dad?” Evans asked the committee twice, leaving long pauses in between.

Rev. Gus Booth of Warroad said the failure of the constitutional amendment was not a mandate to pass gay marriage. He described it as a “bait and switch” tactic that only benefits Minnesotans from the metro area who voted against the amendment. “Before the election we were told we could vote against the marriage amendment and nothing would change,” Booth said. “We were told that if the amendment was defeated our marriage laws wouldn’t change and same-sex marriage would remain illegal. We now know that we were sold a false bill of goods.”

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