The Minnesota House of Representative passed legislation today to legalize same-sex marriage in the state.
The vote was 75-59. Four Republicans joined majority Democrats on the prevailing side, while two rural Democrats voted against the bill.
The legislation eliminates the prohibition of gay marriage, and changes the legal definition of marriage from “between a man and a woman” to “between two persons.”
For many supporters, it was the next logical step after last fall’s defeat of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, along with Democrats winning control of the Legislature. The bill’s chief author, Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, said the historic change will bring legal fairness.
“It’s become clear that most Minnesotans believe that marriage is a unique promise of love, commitment, responsibility and fidelity that two people share,” Clark said. “We believe in Minnesota in treating others the way we want to be treated, and that none of us would want to hold that it is illegal to marry the person we love.”
But for many Republicans, the message from last fall’s amendment defeat was not clear cut. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, questioned the timing of the vote.
“What we learned in November more than anything is that this is an issue that deeply divides Minnesotans,” Daudt said. “What we did not learn is that Minnesotans want us to redefine marriage. My message today is one of caution.”
Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, said she was pleased with the respectful debate, but troubled by the bill’s potential impact on marriage and families.
“This bill removes from our laws gender specific terminology, husband, wife, mother, father,” Scott said. “Is this what we want? Is this what is best for our children and grandchildren?”
But Rep. Barb Yarusso, DFL-Shoreview, said Minnesota should celebrate that same sex-couples are clamoring to get married.
“We come not to destroy marriage, but to uphold it, for all,” Yarusso said.
Leading up to the vote there was a lot attention on rural Democrats who represent districts that supported the marriage amendment. Rep. Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock, a late addition to the yes column. Falk said he thought a lot about his own recent marriage in making his decision.
“It just makes me think about what our marriage means, and it’s about happiness and it’s about love and it’s about a partnership and it’s about a commitment,” Falk said. “There’s no way I could in good conscience deny those same rights to my fellow Minnesotans.”
Freshman Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby, has already taken heat from some his constituents on the issue. But he still voted yes.
“For me this is a vote for freedom and equality,” Radinovich said. “This is a vote for the rights of all of my constituents.”
Two DFL Representatives, Patti Fritz of Faribault and Mary Sawatzky of Willmar, voted against the bill.
Heading into the debate, no Republican had publicly supported the bill, and none spoke in support of it on the floor. Freshman Rep. David FitzSimmons, R-Albertville, successfully amended the bill to reword state marriage laws with the term “civil marriages.” FitzSimmons, who ended up supporting the bill, said the amendment would strengthen its religious protections.
“There is a distinction between what is happening at the courthouse and what is happening in your church, in your synagogue and any other house of worship,” FitzSimmons said. “I believe that’s an important distinction for us to make I believe we have to spell clearly in law.”
The other GOP votes came from Representatives Pat Garofalo of Farmington, Andrea Kieffer of Woodbury and Jenifer Loon of Eden Prairie.
The DFL-controlled Minnesota Senate is expected to pass the measure on Monday and send it to Gov. Mark Dayton, who has said he will sign the bill. Minnesota would become the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Delaware joined the list earlier this week.