Tells crowd, ‘Love is the law’
With a quick swipe of his pen, Gov. Mark Dayton made Minnesota the 12th state in the nation to allow same-sex marriages as a crowd of more than a thousand watched on the front steps of the Capitol Tuesday.
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 a more than 5-point margin. Come August 1, same-sex couples in the state will be able to apply for wedding licenses and couples married in other states will have their unions 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 came just one day after the Minnesota Senate passed the bill on a 37-30 vote that represented the culmination of months of lobbying and vote-counting at the Legislature. The House passed gay marriage last week on a stunning 75-59 vote that saw four Republicans cross over to vote yes. A huge crowd filled the front lawn on the sunny, sweltering hot day, including prominent DFL figures like Alida Messinger, businesswoman Marilyn Carlson Nelson, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz and former DFL legislative leaders like Larry Pogemiller and Tony Sertich.
DFL Rep. Karen Clark, the author of the bill in the House, hinted that she will shortly marry her partner of more than 20 years, Jacquelyn. She also thanked her colleagues in the House who supported the bill, many of them from 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, had married his partner, Richard Leyva, 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 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 closet,” he said. “I never thought in a million years in the state that I call home I would, in December of this year, promise my love and commitment to the person who inspires me each and every day.”
‘Everything is going to be OK in Minnesota’
A day earlier, the Senate spent four hours debating gay marriage while supporters filled the marble steps and hallways just outside the chamber, cheering each time a Democrat concluded a speech supporting the bill. In the end, all but three members of the Senate DFL caucus — Sens. Dan Sparks of Austin, LeRoy Stumpf of Plummer and Lyle Koenen of Clara City — voted in favor of the bill. Only one Republican senator, gay marriage co-sponsor Branden Petersen, crossed over and voted yes.
Sparks, a four-term Democrat, said he voted against the bill owing to the views of 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.
Several GOP senators 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 than I have ever been,” he said. “When I walk out of this chamber today, I know that I’m standing on the side of individual liberty.”
Republicans offered only 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 amendment failed on a 41-26 vote. “The scope of this amendment is breathtaking,” Dibble said. “Where does it stop?”
Near the end of the debate, DFL Minneapolis Sen. Jeff Hayden said that despite the protests and cheers outside of the chamber doors throughout the debate, everything will be fine in Minnesota after gay marriage is legal.
“Hopefully, when we pass this bill, in a few minutes or a few hours, you will find that next year when we come back here, everything is going to be OK in Minnesota,” Hayden said. “People are going to be fine, and we’ll find something else to disagree about, but this won’t be one of them.”
In closing the signing ceremony Tuesday, Dayton encouraged everyone in the crowd — estimated by state patrol to be as large as 6,000 people — to leave the Capitol complex deliberately 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.”