With momentum from the marriage amendment’s defeat, Minnesota lawmakers will introduce a bill in the coming weeks to try legalizing same-sex marriage.
More than 2,000 Minnesotans rallied at the state Capitol on Thursday to drum up support for the forthcoming legislation.
Minnesotans United for All Families, which fought the November ballot question that would have constitutionally defined marriage as between one man and one woman, hosted the Valentine’s Day rally.
The group wants Minnesota to join nine other states that have legalized same-sex marriage.
“We’ve been through quite a campaign, we’ve had quite a debate in Minnesota, and I think it’s time to consider this debate legislatively,” said University of Minnesota law professor Dale Carpenter.
While proponents are hopeful, any bill to change marriage laws still faces strong opposition by legislators and the public.
At the Capitol
A bill will be introduced this week or the next, and it is expected to be heard in committee in both the Senate and House shortly after, said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who will likely author the legislation.
“It’s important to respond to what elections tell us,” he said. “The last election told us this is where people want us to go, so we would not be doing our job if we weren’t taking up this issue and going ahead with it.”
In the fall, 52.5 percent of Minnesotans voted down or didn’t answer the ballot question on same-sex marriage, which is also counted as a “no.”
Compared to the proposed amendment, Dibble said the new effort is “a completely different animal” because rather than convincing the whole state to vote in favor of same-sex marriage, they need to target 201 legislators.
“Of course there is going to be varying opinion at the Capitol, but everyone is [in one location] that we are counting on,” said University political science freshman Gabe Aderhold, who volunteers with Minnesotans United.
Carpenter, a same-sex marriage supporter, said he will get involved by talking with legislators once the bill moves forward.
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said he’s optimistic about a bill passing this session.
“I think there’s a really good chance that it’s going to pass this year,” Marty said, “and if so, things will happen very quickly.”
Dibble, who is openly gay, said there are lawmakers lined up in the state House to author a bill, including Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, who is also openly gay.
“It’s hard to say when it will be taken up by the full Legislature, but I’m sure it will get through the committees — I have no doubt about that,” Dibble said.
Gov. Mark Dayton has made it clear he will sign a bill if it gets in front of him, but Dibble said it’s important to hear all legislative opinions.
“Even if we had all the votes in the bag and we could just ride this one home, it’s still very important for us to really engage in a debate and conversation,” Dibble said.
Same-sex marriage proponents will face opposition from groups like Minnesota for Marriage and the National Organization for Marriage.
Kenny Deutz, a veterinary medicine junior at the University, also opposes the upcoming bill.
“I believe marriage, in itself, should be between one man and one woman and that sex belongs only in marriage,” Deutz said. “What happens in marriage is a supernatural thing, a creation of life that can only be done between a man and a woman.”
Deutz, who serves as vice president of the University’s Catholic College Student Group, said his religion isn’t the only reason for his stance, but it gives him the background and a “good place to come to terms with” the same-sex marriage conversation.
He said the change to the state’s law on marriage is “adult-centered” and people should direct their focus on children and their “right to parents — a mother and father.”
Deutz said he has family members who are gay and that he agrees with same-sex unions.
“They are together, and they have a great relationship,” he said, “but it’s not a marriage.”
At the start of the legislative session, Minnesota for Marriage issued a press release urging Minnesotans to stand against any legislation that would change marriage laws in the state.
Republicans, as well as some DFLers, have said reducing the state’s proposed budget deficit should be the Legislature’s priority instead of social issues.
Political and religious leaders took to the podium Thursday to share their views as waves of supporters cheered on.
“I cannot think of anything more intrusive than the government telling people who they can marry and telling churches which marriages they can solemnize,” Marty said.
He said he’s talked to same-sex couples who are discouraged that they don’t have any legal protection because the law won’t let them marry.
Viewed as “legal strangers in Minnesota,” Dibble said he’s grateful that he and his spouse, Richard Leyva, were able to get married in California years ago — an opportunity he’d like to extend to Minnesotans.
About a hundred clergy members of various faiths attended the rally, and a handful of leaders testified as proponents of the bill.
“In the eyes of Judaism, marriage links us to the basis of our faith,” like family and love, said Rabbi Melissa Simon of the Shir Tikvah congregation.
Carpenter said any bill will need to provide balance for competing interest if it’s likely to pass.
“I think the bill needs to address the legal needs of same-sex couples and, at the same time, provide protection for religious freedom,” he said.
Audience members at the rally held signs and chanted in unison, “Now is the time, this is the year!”
Nine states and Washington, D.C., have legalized same-sex marriage, while a handful of states recognize marriage on a conditional basis.
Molly Tafoya, a spokeswoman for One Iowa — an organization similar to Minnesotans United that raises awareness for LGBT Iowans — said she’s hopeful for Minnesota’s attempt to legalize same-sex marriage this year.
Iowa legalized it in 2009.
“To have Minnesota stand up and say, ‘No, we don’t want this amendment, we don’t want discrimination written in our constitution,’” Tafoya said, “and then to ride that wave of momentum into what I hope will be a successful push in the Legislature,” is highly important for the state.
Although legal, she said opponents still fight same-sex marriage in Iowa.
“Since then, we’ve seen our opponents basically try to attack the marriage ruling at every turn,” Tafoya said. “We do have a pretty vocal and powerful — in that they are well-funded — opposition.”
Marty’s 2008 same-sex marriage legislation was denied, and there have been a handful of unsuccessful efforts since.
“This issue has been heavily discussed in the last three, four, five years or so,” Marty said. “I don’t think we’re going to hear a lot of new arguments.”
Legislative action will begin once the bill is formally introduced.
Regardless of this session’s outcome, both sides agree debate on the issue is constructive.
“Whatever happens, as long as people keep discussing it — questioning it with the idea that people need to understand that they can be wrong, that’s all that matters,” Deutz said. “We’re going to get whatever is right.”