Just a year after Minnesota lawmakers were debating plans to ban same-sex marriage, debate began anew Tuesday at the Capitol as both chambers took up a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the state.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he supports the push toward marriage equality and will sign the bill if it reaches him.
At 7 a.m., a line had already formed outside the first hearing for the House version of the bill, introduced by Rep. Karen Clark (DFL-Minneapolis). The House Civil Law committee took up HF 1054 starting at 8:15 a.m.
BILL CLEARS SENATE COMMITTEE
By a vote of 5-3, the Minnesota Senate's Judiciary Committee voted to send the Freedom to Marry law authored by Sens. Scott Dibble, John Marty, Branden Petersen, Tony Lourey and Terri Bonoff to the floor of the Senate for a full vote.
Dibble, a Democrat who is openly gay, told FOX 9 News he is believes the bill will pass the Senate with bipartisan support.
"I'm very encouraged. We're on our way to the Senate floor now," Dibble said. "I'm confident that we're in good shape, that we'll have a high-quality debate about what marriage means and why family matters in Minnesota."
Despite Dibble's prediction of bipartisan short, the committee vote fell along partisan lines on Tuesday with all Democrats supporting and all Republicans opposed.
The vote before the full Senate is not expected until much later in the session because Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk has made it clear the issue will not come up until a budget bill is complete.
Senate File 925 would remove limitations on marriage for same-sex couples, and Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United for All Families, described the move as "historic."
"What the Senate Judiciary members proved today -- and what we heard from numerous testifiers who spoke passionately in support of this legislation -- is that marriage is defined by the love, commitment and responsibility that two people share," Carlbom said. "Minnesotans want to see our shared values represented in our state law, and those values simply do not include excluding some people from having the freedom to marry and pursue happiness just because of who they are."
Petersen, a Republican, described the law as a common-sense, comprehensive way to provide equal protection under the law to all Minnesotans, regardless of religious or personal beliefs.
"Is it our responsibility to treat all people equally under the law? As a strong proponent of limited government, conservative principles and individual liberty, I believe that it is," Peterson said.
HOUSE COMMITTEE PASSES BILL 10-7
After hearing testimony from more than 60 people on the Freedom to Marry bill -- roughly 35 in favor and 25 against, a House Civil Law Committee voted to pass the measure and send it to the floor for a full vote.
The first hearing began early, but it ended by 9:45 a.m. Tuesday. The committee reconvened at 6 p.m. and returned their final 10-7 vote to an eruption of applause.
As in the Senate committee, the vote came along party lines -- but the votes mark the first time the state's legislative committees have backed same-sex marriage.
The House version of the Freedom to Marry bill is identical to the law up for consideration in the Senate. It will stroke the words "man and woman" from the current marriage law and replace it with "two persons."
The law will also remove the sentence in current law that prohibits "a marriage between persons of the same sex."
"The religious exemptions are insufficient because they don't cover lay people in their business lives." - Pastor Gus Booth
"Civil marriage strengthens families by providing resources unattainable by other means…Children's optimal development depends on the stability of the family, not the gender makeup of their parents." - Paul Melchert, M.D., American Academy of Pediatrics
"Everyone deserves to have a mom and a dad." – Grace Evans, 11 years old
"We come to you today as a family with dreams -- dreams that one day soon, Minnesota will be a state that grants our son, Jacob, the freedom to marry." -- Randi Reitan
"We recognize there are many well-intentioned people who want to marry, but there are deep theological issues as stake." – Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference
"Our professional ethics and authoritative research leads us to support marriage equality. Marriage preserves the family tree and creates a new branch. There is no evidence that parents do better with one man and one woman." – Karen Wills, Ph.D, Minnesota Psychological Association
"Marriage has a vital purpose. It binds fathers to mothers and to the children their sexual union creates. It is crucial to children's well-being and to society's future." - Kathryn Kersten, conservative columnist
"I was here two years ago, and I'm back to remind all of those folks who are worried about the children of gay parents: We're doing fine. Thank you." - David Patton, raised by two men
"It would redefine marriage for everybody. It would distort the image I hold dear." – Erin Sorenson, Northwestern College senior
"(Not passing the same-sex marriage bill) is adult bullying and we must end it." – Marilyn Carlson Nelson
DEFEAT OF AMENDMENT A FACTOR?
Minnesota voters in November struck down a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between one man and one woman. Now, it's time to see what impact the amendment's defeat will have on votes in the Legislature.
The amendment's impact on the state is still being felt as the discussion continues. A former state representative testified that she has always regretted her vote for a constitutional amendment that would have limited marriage to one man and one woman.
Lynn Osterman, of New Hope, was a Republican when she served her only term in the Minnesota House. She choked up as she told a House committee hearing she cast a "politically expedient" vote for an amendment to ban gay marriage when one reached the House floor in 2004.
Osterman told the representatives voting no on this bill might seem politically expedient now, but they'd have to live with the knowledge that their vote wasn't fair, respectful or equal. She said she blew her vote, and implored them to get this one right.
REPUBLICAN REP MAKES MORE WAVES
On Monday, Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen (R-Glencoe) came under fire for using the House floor to introduce a friend whom he said was "active in the gay lifestyle for 10 years" before leaving it to marry a woman and have children.
Gruenhagen has been an outspoken opponent of gay marriage. He recently made national headlines insisting "there is no gay gene" and asserting being homosexual is a choice. The problem with Monday's comment is the point of personal privilege is used to take care of House administrative business, not to debate or lobby.
Republican leadership called the comments inappropriate, and House Speaker Paul Thissen said he will no longer allow legislators to recognize friends, family or groups during session.