Minnesota Senate and House committees hand advocates of same-sex unions early victory
ST. PAUL — Legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota took a key step forward Tuesday but faces many hurdles to approval.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-3 to send the proposal to the full Senate, and the House Civil Law Committee voted 10-7 to put it before the House.
“No Minnesotan should be told it is illegal to marry the person they love,” said bill author Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis.
Clark, a lesbian, said a public vote last fall defeating a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage was a sign that Minnesotans want to change state law and legalize it.
Gay marriage opponents said that vote meant Minnesotans did not want the provision in the state constitution, but they still could oppose same-sex marriage.
“We want to treat everyone with love and respect,” said Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville. “We can do that without redefining marriage.”
The Democratic leadership has said setting the state budget will come before addressing policy issues such as gay marriage. That means full House and Senate debate likely would not come up until mid-April at the earliest.
Some Republicans said lawmakers should not be discussing the issue at all this year.
“I’m disappointed we’re even taking up this divisive issue” when the budget is not finished, said Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover.
Some rural Democrats have said they cannot support same-sex marriage, and the committees that dealt with the proposals Tuesday did not include many rural members.
“We have a large diversity of people in our membership,” Scott said of the Legislature, adding that much of rural Minnesota supported the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
The bills exempt religious organizations from performing same-sex marriage ceremonies if they have objections. But some said that protection is not enough.
Minnesota Catholic Conference director Jason Adkins said the bill is “far from being neutral” and does not do enough to protect religious beliefs.
Other opponents said they are concerned about the effect on businesses, such as catering companies and florists, that would not fall under the exemption.
Bill supporters said marriage allows gay couples to visit each other in hospitals, make legal decisions and conduct other business together.
Businesswoman Marilyn Carlson Nelson said a community that is perceived as welcome to diversity will attract qualified and talented employees.
“Business needs you to make marriage equality the law in Minnesota,” the Carlson Companies chairwoman said.
Hall said the goal of marriage should be to provide a stable environment to raise children. He acknowledged that does not always happen, but said that should be the ideal.
“We should take adult responsibility to children much more seriously,” said Katherine Kersten, a fellow at the Minnesota-based Center for the American Experiment. She said marriage should not only be about emotional connections.
Mothers and fathers bring different styles and strengths to raising children, bill opponents said.
“I do not consider LGBT parents bad parents,” said Robert Oscar Lopez, a California English professor who was raised by a lesbian mother. But, he added, “it hurt me a great deal not to have a father figure in the home.”
Same-sex marriage supporters argue that allowing all couples to marry is in the best interest of families.
“Marriage means family in a way that nothing else does,” said Senate bill author Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis. “Nothing changes. Nothing is redefined.”
Dibble, who is gay, said children function best in families that are supportive and loving, whether or not parents are of the same sex.