After months of speculation, the marriage equality bill just cleared the Minnesota Senate, after passing the House last week on a surprising 75-59 vote. Governor Mark Dayton, narrowly elected last November, has been pushing the bill, and has promised to sign it.
During the hearing, Senator Warren Limmer (R) complained that the bill offered little protection for individuals who disagreed with the bill, including teachers. “What about the YMCA’s, the YWCA’s, what about Northwestern College… they fail to have a denominational identity. They are not protected.”
Senator Ron Latz (R) responded to several of the GOP Senators’ complaints, pointing out that the bill was not about the religious definition of marriage, but the civil one. “Marriage is not a uniquely religious event.”
Senator Scott Dibble (D) made another important point. “Organizations that are religiously affilaited that are not taking public funds don’t have to serve anyone.” He pointed out that only religious institutions that did accept public funds would have to serve same sex couples and individuals, just like everyone else, and that it’s true already today under the state’s human rights laws. “We don’t exclude people in the public square.”
An amendment was put forward by Senator Paul Gazelka (R) to extend religious protections to non-church entities, which would have allowed anyone to discriminate against anyone based on any criteria, as long as it was based on religious beliefs. Not that, the amendment was written in such a way that it could potentially bring down the whole law if it was later found to be unconstitutional… basically a poison pill.
The amendment was defeated 41 to 26.
Another amendment, to explicitly retain the terms mother, father, husband and wife in state law, also failed.
During the final deliberations, Senator Jeff Hayden (D), cited his children as inspiration for voting yes, saying they had known same-sex couples their entire lives, and had themselves fought for marriage equality. Hayden, who is African American, also said that his wife is white, and talked about the Loving decision on bi-racial marriage and how it cleared the way for his family to exist. He said to marriage equality opponents “I think everything is going to be ok here in Minnesota.”
Senator Vicki Jensen (D) looked at the Iowa Supreme Court decision on marriage equality, and found it convincing in its argument that marriage equality was a constitutional right, and that any bill in the legislature should not contain a religious point of view or endorsement. She strongly supports the bill.
Senator Scott Reinert (D), a lutheran, had declined to say how he would vote previously, but he cited his lesbian sister, and his parents who taught him to accept others, as his inspiration. He compared this vote to decisions for women’s rights and in favor of bi-racial marriage. He said that every time we’ve faced this kind of decision, our country has come out on the right side. Reinhart, who is single but hopes to marry someday, said “I vote today to recognize for all the very same desires I have for myself. I vote today to recognize the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of public happiness.”
Senator Ron Latz (D) said “God made gays… who are we to quibble with God’s intentions?” He also pointed out that the bible includes descriptions of polygamous marriages, and that marriage has not always been the same.
Overall, the debate was respectful, even when the opponents spoke against the bill. The usual canards were brought up by the opponents – slippery slope; thousands of years of tradition, marriage is about having children, they’re redefining marriage, etc. In fact, most of these points were made in one speech by Senator Dan Hall (R). “We may be changing the course of freedom,” he said, using the standard playbook – if you don’t like something, say it’s taking away your freedom!
But in the end, none of that mattered, and marriage equality prevailed.
Under the new law, gays and lesbians will be able to marry in Minnesota starting on August 1st. Congratulations to Minnesota and the gay and lesbian couples there!
It’s quite a turn-around from two years ago, when the GOP began its effort to put a gay marriage ban on the ballot. The ban failed, part of a sweep for marriage equality advocates that included legalizing or confirming marriage equality in Maine, Maryland and Washington state.
In the last three weeks alone, three states have now passed marriage equality bills, and now all eyes turn to Illinois.