MARRIAGE EQUALITY: Minn. bill gets full House vote Thursday - KMSP-TV

MARRIAGE EQUALITY: Minn. Freedom to Marry Act gets full House vote Thursday

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

The Freedom to Marry Act, a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota, is scheduled for a full House vote on Thursday.

"We are confident at this point that we do have the votes to bring the bill up this week," said House Majority Leader Erin Murphy,

House Speaker Paul Thissen said that a scheduled vote indicates DFL leaders do have the 68 votes needed to pass the bill.

"We've been having discussions with members. Members, more importantly, have been having discussions with their constituents and with themselves and their families," Thissen said. "Over the course of the last few days, people are feeling more and more comfortable."

Yet, no one can say for certain how the measure will be met until all the votes are tallied. DFL leaders admit that some members are still undecided.

In the past year, same-sex marriage has been one of the most polarizing issues in the state, with several rallies both for and against gathering at the Capitol in recent months.

The legislation itself is simple, changing the definition of marriage between a "man and a woman" to "two persons" while offering religious protections for churches who do not wish to wed same-sex couples.

NO ARM TWISTING FOR KEY VOTES

Marriage equality in Minnesota may hinge on one House Democrat's vote. Rep. Tim Faust (DFL-Hinckley) has committed to vote for the bill.

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) insists there's been no arm twisting on the same-sex marriage bill and members are allowed to vote their conscience.

"This is not an issue that is one subject to arm twisting," Murphy said. "This is an issue where members really have to reach their own conclusion and what they think is right for Minnesota and whether or not they're ready to take that vote."

In total, 17 House Democrats are from districts that supported the amendment to ban same-sex marriage last November. If Democrats hope to pass the bill without any Republican backing, at least 12 of the 17 would have to vote for it. The only definite "no" comes from Rep. Mary Sawatzky (DFL-Willmar).

Many Republicans do oppose the bill, especially those who favor civil unions instead.

"It makes a lot more sense instead of fighting, state-by-state, with this very divisive social issue," argued Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing). "We could actually lead the nation by saying, 'We could do this the right way.'"

THE COST OF EQUALITY

Budget officials at the Capitol projected the bill's passage to cost about $1.1 million over the next two years -- a number that represents new spouses claiming state insurance benefits, offset by funds collected from marriage licenses. The House Ways and Means Committee gave it the OK on Monday evening.

Minnesota Management and Budget agency has estimated 114 spouses would be added to the state employee insurance fund.

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee also passed the financial analysis of the same-sex marriage bill (SF.925) on a voice vote, but not without strong objections from some Republicans who warned of electoral consequences.

"This is an issue for those who want traditional marriage. They're firmly drawing a line in the sand," said Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), who said lawmakers could "definitely" lose their seats over the bill.

Limmer and Sen. Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge) argued same-sex marriage will result in more divorce and family court, and they want to know why that was not factored into the fiscal note.

Limmer said lawmakers should return to their districts to poll constituents on same-sex marriage, predicting that some lawmakers will lose their jobs over how they vote on the bill.

Despite the opposition, however, the bill's chief sponsor in the Senate told FOX 9 News he is "reasonably confident" the bill will be passed this year.

"I believe that the vote coming out of the House will be stronger than anticipated and I think that will help create some momentum as well," Sen. Scott Dibble said. "I don't know if it will be overwhelming [in the Senate], but it will be a good, strong, solid vote."

Dibble added that he'd like to take up the issue before the full Senate "as soon as we possible can" so that lawmakers can move on to the remaining business in the last few weeks of the session.

NEXT STEPS

The House Rules Committee met at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday to put the bill on the books for a full House vote Thursday as Minnesota looks to add itself to the list of states that deliver gay couples the legal right to wed.

If the House passes the bill, the next vote would be in the state Senate. The legislative session ends May 20.

Gov. Mark Dayton has pledged to sign the bill, and its passage would mean same-sex marriages can commence Aug. 1.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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