Same-sex marriage legislation — and its supporters — arrived at the Capitol Wednesday, setting the stage for one of the session’s most contentious issues.
State lawmakers unveiled the long-awaited proposal but said they are not sure whether it has the votes to pass.
They urged same-sex marriage supporters to lobby lawmakers and called on the Legislature to recognize the importance of a couple’s love regardless of gender.
“The journey has been long. It’s been hard-fought,” DFL Rep. Karen Clark, the bill’s House sponsor, said at a news conference unveiling the measure.
Amendment campaign set the stage
She talked about the successful effort to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment that would have reinforced Minnesota’s current statutory ban on same-sex marriage.
“Minnesotans spoke so loudly during this last election refusing to adopt that proposed constitutional amendment. It was a very clear statement, and I think we’re now ready to take the next step, and it means everything to our families.”
Surrounded by supporters, Clark and Sen. Scott Dibble, who was instrumental in the anti-amendment campaign, said their side is prepared to combat the flood of national money that’s been promised against the proposal.
Minnesotans United for All Families, the anti-amendment campaign-turned-lobbying group, proved it was a formidable adversary for opponents of same-sex marriage.
Dibble, the Senate bill’s sponsor, said he’s unsure if the bill currently has enough votes to pass but argued that Minnesotans proved in the November elections that they’re ready to legalize same-sex marriage.
“We are affirming the things we value and cherish the most in our lives,” he said. “Changing nothing, redefining nothing. Affirming what we already know to be true and good.”
Dibble also stressed that the bill includes protections for religious institutions to reassure opponents that legalizing same-sex marriage wouldn’t result in a government intrusion into their faith rights.
The measure, if passed, would take effect Aug. 1, under its current language.
“This bill, because it only allows a joyous occasion to occur in the lives of so many people that we know, won’t impact anyone’s faith tradition, anyone’s closely held personal or religious beliefs,” said DFL Rep. Steven Simon, another supporter.
“In fact … you’ll see that this bill has very strong, very aggressive – and to many people, very important and comforting – religious protections,” Simon said.
Clark said same-sex marriage backers expect to win some GOP support, and those religious protections could be key in garnering Republican votes.
Sen. Branden Petersen of Andover was the first high-profile Republican legislator to back the measure.
Petersen, who was absent from the press conference, said in a statement: “I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this legislation.”
Former State Auditor Pat Anderson, a longtime GOP activist who just announced her support for the measure, also was present at the event.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
But even some GOP support may not be as important as the active support of the DFL’s legislative leadership. Although DFL leaders have said they personally support same-sex marriage, they haven’t been overly enthusiastic in discussing legislative action with the press.
Both Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Speaker Paul Thissen said debate over the bill would have to wait until lawmakers make significant progress on passing a state budget.
Dibble and Clark said they also have the support of the governor’s office. Gov. Mark Dayton’s chief of staff, Tina Smith, was on hand at the conference.
Opponents blast DFL ‘overreach’
Afterward, opponents blasted the measure as DFL “overreach.”
At a Wednesday afternoon news conference, GOP lawmakers and representatives from Minnesota for Marriage, the main pro-amendment campaign, said gay marriage would end in an attack on religious liberties.
They also noted that a number of Democrats support the traditional definition of marriage.
Sen. Paul Gazelka said citizens, charities and businesses in other states where gay marriage is legal have had trouble with discrimination claims if they don’t want to serve gay couples.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Parents also are concerned, they said, about the effect the measure would have on school curriculums.
Some also wondered what laws would look like years down the line.
Sen. Dan Hall, a member of the clergy, said he’s worried about religious liberties being eroded over time if lawmakers open the door to gay marriage.
“I personally will go to jail before I ever perform a marriage to a homosexual.”