Legalizing same-sex marriage faces Legislature

The bill is facing its second legislative session.

Doug Benson, 55, waits on the stairs outside of the Senate chamber at the state Capitol almost every day in an effort to promote the Marriage and Family Protection Act âÄî a bill he brought to the state Legislature that would make same-sex marriage legal in Minnesota. The bill is facing its second session in both the Minnesota state Senate and House after not making it to a vote in either last year. If passed this year, the bill would reverse the state statute prohibiting same-sex couples to marry and require that the gender-neutral term “spouse” replace all instances in law of “husband” and “wife.” Although this bill is only embarking on its second year, battles for and against same-sex marriage in the state have been going on for almost 40 years. In 1971, the Minnesota Supreme Court was one of the first in the nation to prohibit gay marriage in Baker v. Nelson. In 1997, Minnesota’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed, changing the statute to state that “lawful marriage may be contracted only between persons of the opposite sex.” Despite the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that banning gay marriage was unconstitutional, attempts to pass a similar amendment in Minnesota were unsuccessful. Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, co-authored the bill in the Senate in 2008, and an identical bill was brought to the House by state Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL- Minneapolis. Marty, who is running for governor, said he dropped the bill near the end of last yearâÄôs session because he wanted to plant the idea of same-sex marriage in the public, and this year he hopes the bill will get a hearing in both the Senate and the House. âÄúThis year the bill is not such a new idea, and we can work to get it to a vote,âÄù he said. âÄúIâÄôm convinced that when the public hears a rational discussion of this issue, they will overwhelmingly favor it.âÄù Marty said support is growing for the bill both in the public and the Legislature. Benson, who communicates regularly with House and Senate members about the bill, said support in the House has grown from 19 members last year to 32 this session. But neither Benson nor Marty are certain the bill will pass this year. Benson said he is confident the bill would pass in both the Senate and the House if it were put up to a vote, but the bill needs the support of the Senate and House leaders in order to get a hearing âÄî and thatâÄôs not going to be easy. Even more difficult, Benson said, would be the challenge the bill faces on Gov. Tim PawlentyâÄôs desk. âÄúNobody believes heâÄôd sign it, but IâÄôd like to hold out hope and at least give people a chance to disappoint you,âÄù Benson said. Brian McClung, PawlentyâÄôs spokesman, said Pawlenty supports the current law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council, said he doesnâÄôtâÄô think the bill will pass this year, but sees it as a âÄúdefinite threatâÄù in the future. âÄúThe stateâÄôs key interest is encouraging the best environment for raising children,âÄù he said. âÄúChildren need both the presence of a mother and a father and we have deviated from that in our society.âÄù Prichard said he plans supporting a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. An amendment has been proposed before, Prichard said, but people did not support it because DOMA was already in place. âÄúNow we have a situation where the law is being directly challenged,âÄù he said, adding that if the bill passed this year, he plans to try and reverse it at the polls in the 2010 election, similar to Proposition 8 in California last year. Marty said the passing of Proposition 8 has been a setback for GLBT equality, but has also sparked fervor of change amongst supporters. âÄúAs bad as Proposition 8 was, it may have had the ironic effect of getting people fired up to try and change it,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs speeding up our chance to change it now.âÄù