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On Thursday afternoon the Minnesota House passed its long-watched bill to legalize same-sex marriage by a 75-59 vote that followed roughly three hours of floor debate.

House passes gay marriage bill 75-59

DFL Rep. Karen Clark after the gay marriage bill passed the Minnesota House (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

The Minnesota House passed its long-watched bill to legalize same-sex marriage on Thursday afternoon by a 75-59 vote that followed roughly three hours of floor debate.

The margin of passage surprised many observers, a number of whom believed that the bill, authored by Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, would attract at most one or two GOP votes. But following a floor amendment offered by Rep. David FitzSimmons, R-Albertville, that modified the bill’s language to refer to “civil marriage,” the measure won four Republican votes: FitzSimmons plus Reps. Pat Garofalo, Andrea Kieffer and Jenifer Loon.

All but two members of the House DFL caucus voted for the bill. The lone dissenters were Reps. Patti Fritz of Faribault and Mary Sawatzky of Willmar. The Senate is scheduled to take up its own gay marriage bill on Monday, where DFL leadership has expressed confidence in its passage. Gov. Mark Dayton has said he will sign the proposal if it makes it to his desk.

“Minnesotans from every faith and political background have been urging the Legislature to take action this year and include same-sex couples in the freedom to marry,” Clark, who is openly gay, told House members as she presented her bill.

Legislators were uncharacteristically quiet on the House floor as they discussed gay marriage, while loud chants from opponents and supporters could be heard outside the chamber doors. Opponents carried pink signs that said, “Vote no,” and  “Don’t erase moms and dads from MN public policy.” Supporters donned the orange and blue colors of the pro-gay marriage group Minnesotans United for all Families, which spearheaded the campaign to defeat a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage just six months ago.  More than an hour before the debate started, supporters stood outside the chamber and sang songs and chanted, “just vote yes,” while opponents booed and countered by shouting, “no!”

Democrats did most of the talking on the House floor, but a handful of Republicans stood up to articulate their reasons for voting no. “What we learned in November more than anything is that this is an issue that deeply divides Minnesotans,” House Republican Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said. “What we did not learn is that Minnesotans want us to redefine marriage.”

“I’m not sure if this is the right move,” Daudt continued. “But I know this isn’t the right time.”

But a total of four Republican members of his caucus crossed over to support the bill, a surprise to most Capitol watchers, as not one Republican had committed to voting yes before Thursday.

Loon, a three-term Republican from Eden Prairie, has been on the fence about the issue all session after her legislative district rejected the amendment last fall. She said she made her decision on the floor. But she added that one of her daughter’s best friends from high school recently told Loon she is gay. “She is like a daughter to me herself,” Loon said. “I had no idea.”

“There comes a time that you have to kind of just set politics aside and decide in your gut what is the right thing to do,” Loon said. “You have to set [reelection considerations] aside.”

Democrats put up 71 of the 75 votes in favor of the bill, a higher number than most anticipated. A total of 17 House districts currently represented by Democrats voted in favor of the constitutional gay marriage ban last fall. Freshman Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby, is currently the subject of a GOP recall effort after saying he’d vote yes on gay marriage. His district voted more than 62 percent in favor of the amendment in November.

“Today my heart is beating out of my chest,” he said, describing the moment when a close friend revealed he was gay. “This is a vote for freedom and equality…. This is a vote for all of my constituents.”

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy said she was “hopeful” they would break 70 votes for the bill, but did not know it would be as high as 75 total votes. “I can’t wipe the grin off my face,” Murphy said.  “I feel so humbled, so humbled.”

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