The Minnesota Senate passed a bill to legalize gay marriage on a 37-30 vote Monday afternoon after roughly four hours of debate. The bill is now on its way for a quick signature from Gov. Mark Dayton, making Minnesota the 12th state in the nation to allow same-sex marriages.
All but three members of the Senate DFL caucus voted in favor of the bill. Those DFL no votes were from Sens. Dan Sparks of Austin, LeRoy Stumpf of Plummer and Lyle Koenen of Clara City. Only one Republican senator, gay marriage co-sponsor Branden Petersen, crossed over and voted in favor of the bill.
The House passed gay marriage on a stunning 75-59 vote last week. Dayton, who has been an ardent supporter of the proposal, plans to sign it into law in a ceremony on the Capitol steps Tuesday evening.
The bill’s sponsor, Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, hearkened back to two years earlier, when legislators passed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. That amendment was defeated by a roughly 5 point margin last fall.
“I asked who was helped by the proposal that was then before the body, and it was clear to me that it helped no one and harmed many,” said Dibble, who was sporting a pin for Allan Spear, the first openly gay legislator in Minnesota. “I am proud to be a Minnesotan today. Today we have the power, the awesome, humbling power, to make dreams come true.”
GOP Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer said Minnesotans were told last fall that they could vote against the constitutional amendment and “nothing would change.” “Do they feel betrayed today?” she asked. “Absolutely.”
Sparks, a four-term Democrat, said he voted against the bill to align with his southeastern Senate District 27, which voted about 60 percent in favor of the constitutional amendment last fall. Sparks and nine other rural Senate Democrats hail from districts that voted in favor of the constitutional amendment in November.
“At the end of the day it wasn’t a personal vote for me, it was a vote about representing my district,” Sparks said. “Today I still wasn’t positive after hearing some of the emotional speeches. It was weighing heavy on myself and my family.” Sparks said it was “by far” the most difficult vote he has taken as a senator.
Republicans only offered a handful of amendments to the bill, including one from GOP Sen. Paul Gazelka to expand religious exemptions for individuals like wedding photographers and groups connected to religious organizations, such as Catholic universities. “It’s not about living your faith on Saturday or Sunday,” Gazelka said. “It’s about living your faith out loud, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.”
Democrats argued the amendment would open anyone up to discrimination, not just same-sex couples. “The scope of this amendment is breathtaking,” Dibble said. “Where does it stop?” The amendment failed on a 41-26 vote.
Unlike the House vote last week — in which four Republicans crossed over to vote for gay marriage — there was little support for the measure from Republicans in the Senate. Several Senate GOPers expressed hesitation before the vote, including Dave Senjem and Karin Housley. But both ultimately voted against the bill on the floor.
Senjem, who had received a large stack of notes from outside the chamber during the debate, rose to express his indecision. “This is a pretty important day in the state of Minnesota, and it’s a day for many of us, I think, our heartstrings pull, and they pull pretty strong,” he said. “This bill will pass — we are going to have same-sex marriage at the end of the day.”
But after the vote, Senjem said he went with his “gut instinct” in voting no. “There’s no magic answer, it’s just how you feel at the moment in a very internal way,” Senjem said. “On one hand your life says to love, and you do, and on the other hand your life says marriage stands for something in a more traditional sense.”
Petersen became the first Minnesota Republican legislator to support gay marriage in February, when he announced plans to co-sponsor the legislation. He faced immediate backlash from social conservative groups, which promised to spend money to defeat him in his next election. On the floor, Petersen said he didn’t know what his political future held.
“I stand here, quite honestly, more uncertain about my future in this place,” he said. “When I walk out of this chamber today, I know that I’m standing on the side of individual liberty.”