Republican Rep. Tim Kelly, of Red Wing, Minn., introduced a bill Wednesday to establish civil unions in Minnesota as an alternative to legalizing same-sex marriage.
The bill was introduced in the House with bipartisan support. The proposed legislation would add the words "civil union" next to the word marriage in state law and defines those as "a civil contract between two parties, recognized by the state of Minnesota."
"As I stated, this bill will absolutely give all the benefits and limitations by the way of marriage to same-sex couples," Kelly said.
Kelly was one of four Republicans to vote against the constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage, but still believes gay marriage supporters went too far when their campaign shifted from defeating the amendment to legalizing same-sex marriage.
According to Kelly, the civil union bill is an attempt to find middle ground by granting same-sex couples the same statutory recognition as a man and woman; however, supporters of same-sex marriage don't view it as a viable option.
House Speaker Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis) called the civil union bill "an idea whose time has passed and would simply create a new separate and unequal category."
Sen. Scott Dibble, the chief offer of the Freedom to Marry bill, echoed Thissen's criticisms.
"Civil unions really are unequal, separate," Dibble said. "You know they just don't do the job."
The Minneapolis Democrat said civil unions would be a "legal construct" specific to Minnesota that couldn't be recognized outside Minnesota or give them access to federal rights and benefits related to marriage, particularly if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the federal Defense of Marriage Act as its currently considering.
"We're moving forward with marriage this year," Dibble said. "The time is right."
Dibble's bill would strike the words "man and woman" from state statute and replace it with "two persons." It would also remove the prohibition of "a marriage between two persons of the same sex."
The Star Tribune polled 800 Minnesotans at the end of February, before either of the bills were introduced, and found a slim majority of Minnesotans -- 53 percent -- oppose ending the ban on same-sex marriage; however, that majority was within the 3.5 percent margin of error. The paper did not share its methodology.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, a total of eight states allow civil unions or domestic partnerships that mimic full marriage rights. Nine states and Washington, D.C., directly allow same-sex marriage.
New Jersey was one state that adopted civil unions, but health benefits were frequently denied to same-sex couples under a federal law. In a 2008 Review Commission report, the state's bar association called civil unions "a failed experiment" that was shown to "perpetuate unacceptable second-class legal status."
It's still unclear whether the proposed civil union statute would require same-sex couples receive equal treatment in terms of health insurance in Minnesota. Kelly said that would have to be negotiated with the couples' employers.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.