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Republican Rep. Tim Kelly introduced the proposal in a Capitol news conference on Wednesday, which would add civil union language in state law next to any mention of marriage. Kelly was joined by Republican Reps. Pat Garofalo, Andrea Kieffer and Denny McNamara. Rochester DFL Rep. Kim Norton has also signed on to the bill but was not at the news conference.

House lawmakers introduce bill to allow civil unions

Rep. Tim Kelly (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Facing a likely late-session push to legalize gay marriage in Minnesota, four  Republican House members and one Democrat have signed on to a bill to allow civil unions in the state.

Republican Rep. Tim Kelly introduced the proposal in a Capitol news conference on Wednesday, which would add civil union language in state law next to any mention of marriage. Kelly was joined by Republican Reps. Pat Garofalo, Andrea Kieffer and Denny McNamara. Rochester DFL Rep. Kim Norton has also signed on to the bill but was not at the news conference. Separate bills to legalize gay marriage have passed committees in both chambers and are are awaiting full votes on the floor.

“We are here to offer a way to unite Minnesota and bring forth a bill that will take the divisive social issues away from the political arena and give everyone the individual rights they deserve,” said Kelly, who bucked his caucus in 2011 by voting against a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. That amendment failed with voters last fall by about 5 percent of the vote. “I do not believe government’s role is to define gay marriage…but that does not stop the injustices and discriminatory things that are in our statute today, and that’s why I bring forth this bill.”

Kelly said he was surprised the Democrats hadn’t offered a bill to allow civil unions yet. “I thought civil unions would have been proposed by this time,” he said. “And I’m afraid because it’s not, now we’ve put all our eggs in one basket proposing a gay marriage bill. If that fails, there’s no fallback plan.”

The bill will have a hard time moving through the committee process after missing deadlines for policy proposals last month.  DFL Rep. John Lesch, chairman of the House Civil Law Committee, said he’s not sure if he will hold a hearing on Kelly’s bill after deadline, but Kelly said he could bring civil unions directly to the floor as an amendment to the gay marriage bill.

All four Republicans said they will not vote for the gay marriage bill authored by DFL Rep. Karen Clark. Kelly said he believes he has “considerable” GOP and DFL support for the proposal, and a Senate companion bill is in the works.

Supporters of gay marriage quickly dismissed the move, saying it doesn’t go far enough for equality for same-sex couples. House Speaker Paul Thissen released a strong statement in favor of gay marriage, saying Kelly’s bill is “not acceptable” for those who support “full marriage equality for all Minnesotans.”

“The conversation that we are having both at a national level and here in Minnesota is whether or not all committed couples deserve the freedom to marry. Unfortunately, the bill announced today is an idea whose time has passed and would simply create a new separate and unequal category for same-sex couples in our state,” Thissen wrote. “It will not have broad support in the Minnesota House of Representatives.”

Minnesotans United for All Families, the main group pushing legalization of gay marriage, called the move an attempt to “legally classify committed gay and lesbian couples and their families as second-class citizens in our state.”  “It is contradictory to our values as Minnesotans to deem some Minnesotans worthy of marriage while others are only good enough for ‘civil unions,’ wrote Jake Loesch, spokesman for Minnesotans United.

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