Minnesota moved one step closer to becoming the 12th US state to recognize same-sex marriage on Monday when the state Senate voted 37 to 30 to approve a bill establishing equal civil rights to marry for gay men and lesbians.
Cheers flooded the Senate chamber and cascaded through the surrounding halls as word spread of the bill’s passage. Minnesota’s House of Representatives approved the measure last week and Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to sign the bill into law on Tuesday.
If he does, Minnesota will become the third state this month to legalize same-sex marriage. The governor of Rhode Island signed a bill May 2, and Delaware's governor signed a bill on May 7. In Minnesota, same-sex marriages could begin as early as August 1.
The action there came after 4-1/2 hours of impassioned, heartfelt debate on both sides of the issue.
“I am proud to be a Minnesotan today,” Sen. Scott Dibble, a sponsor of the bill, told his colleagues.
Senator Dibble said he and his partner were married in California in 2008 because no similar option existed in his home state. “Here in Minnesota, Richard and I are legal strangers to each other. How can that be OK?”
The final vote largely tracked party lines. Several Republican senators expressed concern that the same-sex marriage law would be the beginning of the end of traditional family life.
“I think this is a wrong step in history, a step that we should not be going down,” Sen. Torrey Westrom said. “We should affirm what the legislature did in 1997, keep the statute in place and keep mother and father in marriage.”
Republican Sen. Dan Hall was worried that the measure would outlaw certain religious beliefs about homosexuality.
“It will threaten religious liberty. Today we may be changing the course of freedom for our children and our grandchildren,” Senator Hall said. “Freedom can only be free if we keep our moral compass, if we resolve to strengthen marriage instead of dismantle it.”
Dibble tried to strike a reassuring tone. “I promise you, I promise you nothing will change,” he said. “Except that thousands of families’ lives will be better, we will be treating families fairly.”
“There is no limit to love, it is not going to be all used up,” he added. “It only expands.”
In his final appeal on the senate floor, Dibble said: “Vote yes for freedom, vote yes for family, for commitment, for responsibility, for dignity. Vote yes for love.”
There was little doubt during the debate about the final outcome. But that didn’t make the job any easier for some lawmakers.
Sen. Patricia Torres Ray admitted that members of her family disagreed with her decision to support the bill. She added: “But I hope that with time they will understand.”
Sen. Ron Latz presented his own version of a religious argument in his comments during the debate. “God made gays, and God made gays capable of loving other people, including people of the same gender,” he said. “So who are we to quarrel with God’s intentions?”
Sen. Roger Reinert urged his fellow lawmakers to view the same-sex marriage law through the lens of societal progress in America and how his own sister would fit into that flow of history.
“Fifty years ago, it would be about the color of her skin. One hundred years ago, it would be about her gender,” Senator Reinert said. “Each time our country reached this decision point it has come out on the right side of history.”
Reinert told his fellow senators he was one of the few members of that body who had not yet married. But he said he hoped someday to marry.
“Expanding rights does nothing to diminish mine,” he said. “I vote today to give something that is not mine to give. I vote today to recognize for all, the very same desires I have for myself.”
Republican lawmakers attempted to amend the bill prior to the final vote. They introduced a provision that would have allowed any individual to refuse to conduct business with someone in a same-sex relationship if that fact clashed with their sincerely-held religious beliefs.
“The question for this body is do we offer protection for all or only a few,” said Sen. Warren Limmer.
Later he added: “I’m sorry we don’t have room in our statutebooks for people of faith anymore.”
The amendment was defeated 41 to 26.
Not all Republicans opposed the same-sex marriage provision. Branden Petersen said the debate about marriage equality was backward.
“We as citizens of this country and this state are blessed to live with the presumption of liberty,” he said. “The burden of proof is on us in this body to prove why they should not be treated equally under the law.”