A committee of the Minnesota House of Representatives will hold a hearing Monday on three separate visions for extending greater rights to gay and lesbian couples. It marks the first time a legislative body in Minnesota has taken such an affirmative look; past discussion has sought only to constitutionally prohibit marriage equality.
The hearing, to be held by the Civil Justice Committee, will consider gender neutrality in Minnesota’s marriage law, a bill establishing civil unions and recognizing same-sex marriages performed outside Minnesota. It will not, however, end in a vote.
Still, Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis, who chairs the committee, should be applauded for bringing much-needed attention to equal rights legislation. Minnesota, despite a history of progressive values, warmth and fairness, has fallen behind in the march toward equality.
Five states currently extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians, and they’re better off for it. Many Minnesotans, for example, are making the short journey south to wed in Iowa. A UCLA study last year estimated that Iowa’s state budget is getting a $5.4 million annual bump from gay-marriage-derived tax receipts. This number doesn’t include the indirect boost to local businesses across the state.
Despite the lag, Minnesota seems to be moving slowly forward. All DFL candidates for governor have said they support same-sex marriage. Polls show, too, that young people overwhelmingly support greater rights for gays and lesbians. Quite simply, gay marriage rights will come to Minnesota eventually; a proactive move by the Legislature to establish them now would not only be the right thing to do, but it would be a balm for our ailing state budget.