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Gay marriage to get a vote on the House floor Thursday

Briana Bierschbach//May 7, 2013

Gay marriage to get a vote on the House floor Thursday

Briana Bierschbach//May 7, 2013

House Speaker Paul Thissen (right), shown with Majority Leader Erin Murphy (staff photo: Peter bartz-Gallagher)

House DFL leaders plan to bring a bill to legalize gay marriage to the full floor on Thursday, expressing confidence that they have secured votes to pass the proposal in the chamber.

The vote in the House will come just six months after voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. House Speaker Paul Thissen has repeatedly said he would not bring the bill to the floor until he has the necessary 68 votes to pass the measure. The Senate is expected to take up the bill after the House, with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk expressing confidence in its passage there. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, a strong supporter of gay marriage, has said he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

Shortly after the announcement, anti-amendment campaign-turned lobbying group Minnesotans United for all Families called the upcoming vote “a historic victory for thousands of same-sex couples and families in our state.”  “We are confident that the necessary votes to extend the freedom to marry for same-sex couples have been secured and that HF1054 will pass the House floor,” said Minnesotans United campaign manager Richard Carlbom.

The votes have been the most difficult to secure in the House chamber, where there appears to be little support from the 21 Republican lawmakers who live in districts that rejected the amendment last fall. So far no Republicans members in the House have committed to voting yes on gay marriage. With 56 DFL House members living in districts that rejected the gay marriage ban, the attention has been turned on the 17 rural Democrats whose districts supported the proposed amendment, some by margins of higher than 60 percent. At least seven swing district or rural Democrats are on the record as planning to vote yes, bringing the known DFL total to 63 votes, but many more have said they are undecided or refused to comment on their upcoming vote.

The difficulty surrounding the vote for those members was highlighted Monday when a former Crow Wing County Republican Party leader announced a recall effort on DFL Rep. Joe Radinovich, a freshman lawmaker from Crosby who announced his plans to vote yes on gay marriage late last week.

“While I understand that some people may interpret that as me bucking public opinion, I think it’s also important to remember that there are gay people who were born and raised in my community and live in my community right now,” Radinovich said this week. “It’s hard to justify denying rights to people solely for the sake of political expediency.”

Doug Kern, who is leading the notoriously difficult recall effort, said Radinovich is knowingly voting against the will of the people he represents. “Our area is so conservative, and for Joe to do this, it’s just like a slap in the face to us,” Kern said.

There are other Democrats who would prefer to wait until a non budget year to take up the gay marriage bill. “There is next session,” Winona DFL Rep. Gene Pelowski said this week. “By that time the budget issues should not only be resolved but Minnesota should be in a position to reinvest once again in improving our quality of life.” Pelowski, however, would not say how he plans to vote when the bill comes to the floor.

Below is a survey of swing district DFLers, plus those 17 members who live in districts that voted for the amendment:

  • Roger Erickson (Baudette) — Undecided
  • David Dill (Crane Lake) — No Comment
  • Paul Marquart (Dilworth) — No Comment
  • John Persell (Bemidji) — No Comment
  • Tom Anzelc (Balsam Township) — Yes
  • Carly Melin (Hibbing) — Yes
  • Jason Metsa (Eveleth) — Yes
  • John Ward (Baxter) — No Comment
  • Joe Radinovich (Crosby) — Yes
  • Mike Sundin (Esko) —  Yes
  • Tim Faust (Hinckley) — Yes
  • Jay McNamar (Elbow Lake) –Undecided
  • Patti Fritz – (Faribault) — No
  • Andrew Falk (Murdock) — Could not be reached
  • Mary Sawatzky (Willmar) — No
  • Shannon Savick (Wells) — Yes
  • Jeanne Poppe (Austin) — Leaning Yes
  • Kim Norton (Rochester) – No Comment
  • Gene Pelowski (Winona) – No Comment

There are several amendments being prepped for the debate on Thursday, including one from Red Wing GOP Rep. Tim Kelly to allow civil unions in the state. Kelly, along with four other Republican House members and Rochester DFL Rep. Kim Norton, introduced a bill earlier this session to insert the words “or civil unions” alongside any mention of the word marriage in statute. But Kelly recently amended that proposal to remove the world marriage from statute all together, after gay marriage advocates complained that his original proposal didn’t go far enough.  Gay rights groups oppose Kelly’s amendment.

The announcement came as House and Senate members gave the bill it’s final hearing in fiscal committees. Lawmakers reviewed a new fiscal note on the bill that projects gay marriage will cost the state about $688,000 a year to provide health insurance benefits to spouses of state employees. The proposal is also projected to generate about $10,000 in revenue annually through collections from marriage license fees.

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