With a quick swipe of his pen, surrounded by several thousand onlookers on the front steps of the Capitol on Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton made Minnesota the 12th state in the nation to allow same-sex marriages.
The ceremony marked a dramatic shift in Minnesota, where two years ago lawmakers voted to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to ban gay marriages. Six months ago, voters rejected that amendment by more than a 5 point margin. Come Aug. 1, same-sex couples in the state will be able to apply for wedding licenses, and couples married in other states will have their union recognized in Minnesota.
“What a difference a year and an election make in our state,” said Dayton, who signed the bill on the steps while flanked by dozens of legislators who voted in favor of gay marriage. “Last year, there were concerns that marriage equality would be banned forever. Now my signature will make it legal in two and a half months.”
The ceremony comes just one day after the Minnesota Senate passed the bill off the floor on a 37-30 vote, the final stop for the measure after months of lobbying in the Legislature. The House passed gay marriage on stunning 75-59 vote last week, with four Republican representatives crossing over to vote yes. A huge crowd filled the front lawn on the sunny, sweltering hot day, including prominent DFL figures like Alida Messigner, businesswoman Marilyn Carlson Nelson, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz and former DFL legislative leaders like Larry Pogemiller and Tony Sertich. There were few gay marriage opponents in the crowd.
Two openly gay lawmakers from Minneapolis led the effort in the Legislature, including DFL Rep. Karen Clark, who hinted that she will shortly marry her partner Jacquelyn of more than 20 years. Clark thanked her colleagues in the House who supported the bill, many of them in rural swing districts that voted in favor of the constitutional amendment last fall.
“This was a risky vote for some of our folks,” Clark said, as the crowd cheered “thank you!” and “we’ve got your back!”
DFL Sen. Scott Dibble, who led the effort in the upper chamber, recognized his partner Richard Leyva, who he married in California. “Our dream came true four and a half years ago in California,” he said. “Now it can come true in Minnesota.”
Minnesotans United for all Families manager Richard Carlbom, who led the group through the campaign against the amendment and the lobbying effort for legalization, talked about the moment he came out of the closet more than a decade ago.
“When I came out of the closet, I put this idea of getting married up on the top shelf of the back of that closest,” he said. “I never thought in a million years in the state that I call home, that I would, in December of this year, promise my love and commitment to the person who inspires me each and every day.”
In closing, Dayton encouraged everyone in the crowd — estimated by state patrol to be as large as 6,000 people — to file out of the Capitol slowly and carefully. Many in the crowd proceeded to march to downtown St. Paul, where gay marriage advocates were hosting a free concert.
“Go celebrate,” Dayton said. “Love is the law.”