Thursday marked a busy day at the Minnesota State Capitol, where multiple rallies were held as lawmakers continue to take up hotly contested issues, from marriage equality to funding health care and addressing rising homelessness in the state.
Minnesota for Marriage organized a rally Thursday in opposition to the newly-introduced, bipartisan same-sex marriage bill.
"I am joining thousands of Minnesotans to make a stand for traditional marriage," said Patrick Doney. "That's what we're doing."
The rally began inside the Capitol rotunda at 2:30 p.m., one week after the bill was formally announced and just a few weeks after the Freedom to Marry rally drew thousands on Valentine's Day.
"I don't know why they keep thinking redefining marriage is a good idea other than it makes them feel good," Doney told FOX 9 News, "but it's very bad for society and our country."
The issue was one of the most divisive in the fall election. Although Minnesotans made a historic vote in turning down a constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage, the debate didn't end there.
On Wednesday, the bipartisan marriage equality bill secured support from the chairman of Minnesota College Republicans, the highest-ranking state GOP leader to break with the party's official stance against gay marriage.
Thursday's rally attracted national attention and featured remarks from the president of the National Organization for Marriage, Brian Brown, in support of Minnesota's current law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
"Proponents of same-sex marriage want us to believe that this is inevitable, that this is going to come no matter what we do. We might as well pack it up and go back to our homes and stop fighting. We will never stop fighting for the truth!" Brown exclaimed.
The House Civil Law Committee is set to review the bill in its first legislative hearing next week. A head count conducted by the Associated Press on Thursday found the bill has enough votes to pass both the initial House and Senate committees.
Homelessness in Minnesota is on the rise, according to a triennial statewide homelessness study by Wilder Research prompting housing advocates to push legislation for $50 million to thwart the trend.
Despite an improving economy, officials estimate there are still 10,214 homeless people in Minnesota based on a survey taken on Oct. 25.
Every three years, officials count the number of homeless residents living in shelters and on the streets. The most recent numbers show:
When the survey results were unveiled on Thursday, several lawmakers announced a plan to spend $50 million on a package that would, in part, create more emergency shelters.
"Not only is it the right thing to do morally -- not only is it the right thing to do ethically, but it's the right thing to do fiscally," said Rep. Jason Isaacson, a Democrat from Shoreview. "If we don't take care of this right now, we're going to have generational poverty, generational homelessness, generational drug problems and crime -- pretty much all of the social issues we're dealing with."
Over 400 Housing advocates were expected to attend Homeless Day on the Hill at the Capitol on Thursday to urge lawmakers to invest in the issue.
"Things are still really bad for working families and unemployed Minnesotans," said Jen Peterson, a mother who was once homeless herself. "Last year on Labor Day, a faith-based homeless shelter opened in Oakdale. This is the only shelter in Washington County and it has been full every night."
The Minnesota Senate is scheduled to take up the health insurance exchange bill. The House passed its first version Monday.
The health insurance exchange will allow consumers to shop for coverage plans online as part of the enactment of the Affordable Care Act.
The two bills differ in how they cover operating costs for the exchange. The House places a tax on insurance premiums sold through the exchange while the Senate is looking to fund the exchange through existing cigarette taxes.