A handful of Democratic lawmakers have unveiled a long-anticipated proposal to legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota, and they have support from at least one of their Republican colleagues.
Minneapolis DFL lawmakers Karen Clark and Scott Dibble released the language of the bill at a Capitol news conference on Wednesday. They were joined by Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-Hopkins, who will also sponsor the bill, as well as clergy members and gay couples and their families. Republican Sen. Branden Petersen made headlines last week when he said he’d likely support the bill. He was not present at the press conference, but released a statement making his support official.
“Freedom is for everyone, love is for everyone,” said Dibble, a four-term senator who described his marriage to his partner, Richard Leyva, four years ago in California. “It was more incredible than words can describe, and our families now understand us in a new way.”
The language in the bill is simple. It crosses out phrases “man and a woman” and “only between persons of the opposite sex” that were first put in law in 1997, and inserts the words “two persons” and “spouse.” The bill also includes religious freedom language, as requested by Petersen, to allow religious organizations to refuse to perform a same-sex marriage if they choose. “Each religious organization, association or society has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine, policy, teachers and beliefs regarding who may marry within a faith,” the bill reads.
Clark, a House member who has been with her partner for 23 years, said she was recently asked about their official anniversary date. “If we pass this law, I’ll be able to give you an exact date,” she said. Clark said voters in Minnesota sent them a clear message last fall, when they defeated a GOP-led constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage by about 5 percent of the vote. “We had a trial run with the amendment and the voters spoke loud and clear,” she said.
Republican operative and former State Auditor Pat Anderson was also at the news conference, having penned an op-ed in the Pioneer Press this week stating her support for gay marriage. Petersen had previously scheduled meetings in his district today, but said his support for the bill is about limited government.
“As a strong proponent of limited government, conservative principals and individual liberty, I am proud to add my name as a co-author of legislation to secure the freedom to marry for same-sex couples,” Petersen wrote. “I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this legislation that safeguards children, strengthens, marriage and families and protects religious freedom.”
Dibble said he doesn’t know if they have the votes to pass the bill now. Gay marriage supporters hope to gain even more Republican support as the bill works its way through the committee process. “Our challenge in coming weeks is that we really have this discussion with renewed energy,” he said. “About why marriage matters, why family matters.”
But opponents of the bill say Democratic lawmakers should not read the amendment vote last fall as a mandate to legalize gay marriage. In a response press conference Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Warren Limmer said voters simply do not want the state’s current anti-gay marriage laws to be etched into the constitution.
“This was not a multiple choice question,” said Limmer, who is the ranking member of the judiciary committee and author of the ban in the Senate two years ago. “I’ve heard a lot of justifications for this, but the most surprising one is that this amendment is somehow a mandate from the people.”
Republican senators like Dan Hall, a practicing minister, say the bill has far-reaching implications for religious freedoms. “Religious liberties goes far beyond the church, it extends to small businesses and non profits,” he said, adding that some groups have gone to court in other states for refusing to recognize same-sex couples. “Personally, I will got to jail before I ever perform marriage to a homosexual.”
Minnesota for Marriage spokeswoman Autumn Leva said the group will be encouraging supporters of traditional marriage to contact their legislators. The group is also holding a rally at the Capitol next week.
Republican gay marriage opponents say they haven’t done a head count to see how many Democrats might join their effort, or how many more Republicans could vote in favor of gay marriage. But Limmer noted that 75 of 87 counties voted against the amendment, and many of them are now represented by freshman Democrats.
“We have lots of new representatives and senators, many of them Democrats, who represent those areas,” he said. “I caution you to go against the will of your public.”