Same-sex marriage bill clears first hurdle

Committees in the state House and Senate voted to send the bill to the full Legislature.

by Jessica Lee

After hours of discussion, same-sex marriage legislation cleared its first hurdle at the state Capitol on Tuesday.

Bills to repeal the state’s 1997 law banning same-sex marriages passed committees in the House and Senate — its first and only stop before hitting the full Legislature in a few months.

Legislators heard hours of emotional, tear-filled testimonies from more than 60 students, pastors, parents and children from both sides who packed hearing rooms all day Tuesday.

The House passed the measure through committee 10 to seven at about 8 p.m. Tuesday after hours of testimony and deliberation throughout the day.

During two hours of testimony earlier Tuesday morning, the committee heard opposition from an unlikely source.

“Which parent do I not need, my mom or my dad?” asked 11-year-old Grace Evans to a committee of silent legislators.

Support for the measure comes overwhelmingly from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party — the bill passed the Senate committee five to three on the party line — but a growing number of Republicans are coming out in favor.

Former Republican Rep. Lynne Osterman fought back tears as she described voting against same-sex legislation more than a decade ago because of her party’s platform, an action she regrets.

“Voting no today, this session, might seem politically expedient,” she said, “but I can tell you from experience that you will have to live knowing that a ‘no vote’ is not fair, it’s not respectful and it’s not equal.”

University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter, who served as associate counsel to the George W. Bush administration, said many Republicans are “coming around to the view that individual liberty … is more important than getting mired in social issues” by adhering to party views.

Later in the afternoon, University law student David Patton, who has two gay dads, testified in the Senate in favor of the bill sponsored by Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.

“For those of you worried about the children being raised by gay parents, I’m here to tell you we’re doing fine,” he said, “… you would be amazed about what gay dads can teach you about impressing women.”

Dibble and the House author Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, are both openly gay. Dibble said the legislation would allow him and his husband, Richard Levya, to “step into the rights of everyone in the Constitution.”

“Same-sex couples pay taxes, vote, serve in the military, take care of their kids and their elders and run businesses in Minnesota,” Clark said. “We work hard and contribute to the same Minnesota system as everyone else.”

The defeat of a constitutional amendment that would’ve defined marriage as between one man and one woman last fall spurred the momentum for the DFL-led Legislature to take up the issue this session.

Opponents say the election was not a cue for the state leaders to pass same-sex marriage legislation.

“I feel like we didn’t vote to legalize same-sex marriage this last November,” said Gus Booth, Warroad Community Church pastor, “… in northern Minnesota, we don’t appreciate this sort of bait-and-switch tactic.”

The legislation doesn’t require religious organizations or clergy members to marry same-sex couples.

Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, said he’s faced public scrutiny because of his opposition to the same-sex marriage bill. He reiterated that legislators should not pass the marriage law because the family structure would be undermined.

“I’m trying to be a nice guy, but I have a different opinion,” he said.

After clearing the committees Tuesday, the issue will take a back seat for the coming weeks, as legislators focus on fixing the state’s projected deficit.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he will sign the legislation if it gets in front of him, and same-sex marriages would begin to be recognized by the state in August.

Nine other states have legalized same-sex weddings and others are mulling over the issue like Minnesota.