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Nation & World

In historic vote, Minnesota House approves gay marriage bill

(MCT) ST. PAUL, Minn. — With cheers and protests thundering through the Capitol, the Minnesota House on Thursday took a historic step toward legalizing same-sex marriage.

The measure passed 75-59 with resounding support from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and the votes of four Republicans. The measure now goes to the state Senate on Monday, where its passage is considered likely. Gov. Mark Dayton has said he intends to sign the bill into law, making Minnesota the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage.

“All Minnesotans deserve the freedom to marry the person they love, and we are proud to take this historic vote to ensure same-sex couples have that right,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen, a DFL member who became visibly choked up as he announced the final vote.

The dramatic vote capped an extraordinary day inside the Capitol. As he has for seven years, gay activist Doug Benson stood quietly outside the House chamber with two iPads flashing: “Marriage Equality. This Year.” Opponents read Bible verses and sang hymns. House members on both sides of the issue were brought to the point of tears by the debate.

“Justice is knocking,” said DFL state Rep. Carlos Mariani, who voted yes. “How often does justice come knocking? Until we open the door.”

Republican state Rep. Peggy Scott wiped tears from her eyes after voting no. “My heart breaks for Minnesota,” she said.

Opponents say their last hope is to convince state senators that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, ordained by God and not subject to change.

The vote comes just six months after Minnesota voters defeated a proposal to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage. But an indication of how divided the state remains was evident in a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll two months ago, which showed a majority of Minnesotans still opposed lifting the legal ban on gay marriage.

“History will determine whether this was the right move, but one thing I think we really know is that Minnesota is divided over the issue,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, a Republican, moments before the vote was to be taken. “Hearts and minds may be changing, but Minnesota is still divided and now is not the time.”

Lobbying on the issue has been fierce, with proponents calling Thissen’s office at the rate of one per minute. At one point, Chris Kluwe, an outspoken supporter recently cut from his job as punter for the Minnesota Vikings, personally lobbied Republican state Rep. Pat Garofalo. Garofalo ended up among the four Republicans who voted yes.

DFL state Rep. Tim Faust said doing the right thing cannot wait, no matter how politically perilous.

Faust, a minister, said he searched for the courage for months “to vote for this bill when the majority of people in my district do not agree with this.” Ultimately, Faust said, he did it for “the young man or woman that every day has to get up and go to school knowing that they are going to be picked on, knowing they are going to be called names. Knowing there is a good chance they might get beat up because they are who God made them to be — children of God, brothers and sisters of ours, and yet they do not have the same rights that we do.”

Same-sex marriage opponents renewed their calls to leave marriage unchanged.

Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, said he fears that schools eventually will be forced to teach students about homosexuality in sex education classes, normalizing what he considers deviant behavior.

“Thinks about what’s best for the children,” Gruenhagen said. “Please vote for the children.”

Republican state Rep. Kelby Woodard said the measure stigmatizes Minnesotans who oppose same-sex marriage.

“We are classifying half of Minnesotans as bigots in this bill — and they are not,” he said.

Republican state Rep. Tony Cornish said he was raised by a mother and a father and continues to believe that is best for children. “I am not a homophobe or a Neanderthal or a hater,” he said.

The vote could have career-ending consequences for some members, especially with polls showing a passionate split on the issue statewide.

DFL state Rep. Joe Radinovich looked exhausted but upbeat as the first-termer cast his vote in favor of same-sex marriage, which could put him at odds with his conservative district. “I don’t think I’m going to lose my seat,” he said. “It’s an emotional day. We all hold these beliefs deep in our hearts and I think we heard a great conversation today.”

Two Democrats from rural areas voted against same-sex marriage — Rep. Patti Fritz, of Faribault and Willmar’s Mary Sawatsky.

Minnesotans United, the lead group pressing for same-sex marriage, spent weeks reaching out to Republicans to give the measure a coalition of strong bipartisan support. Only one Republican — state Sen. Branden Petersen — had announced he will vote to legalize same-sex marriage.

Freshman Rep. David FitzSimmons, a Republican, proposed a last-minute change to the measure to add “civil” to the state’s marriage laws. The change, which was adopted, is intended to draw a line between civil and religious marriage ceremonies.

After staying silent on the issue for weeks, a sometimes teary FitzSimmons then voted for the measure, as did Republican Reps. Jennifer Loon and Andrea Kieffer.

FitzSimmons said that once he saw the outcome as inevitable, he started working with same-sex marriage supporters to shape the law to ensure it held protections for religious institutions.

“The people I was thinking about are the people who attend churches in my district and it’s incredibly important that they are able to keep their freedom while others do what they think is their freedom,” FitzSimmons said after the vote.

Garofalo said he never would have voted for the marriage measure without the religious protections afforded by the FitzSimmons amendment. “For me, I am Catholic and it is a very personal issue for me,” Garofalo said.

Nationally, hundreds of prominent Republicans have broken with their party on the issue and announced their support for same-sex marriage. Brian McClung, once a spokesman for Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, recently announced his support for same-sex marriage.

By mid-Thursday morning, gay and lesbian advocates were packing the Capitol, donning orange-and-blue “Support Marriage” stickers and shirts.

On the other side, Minnesota for Marriage ran shuttles back and forth to the Capitol from the Cathedral and Living Word Church, ferrying activists. They wore Minnesota for Marriage blue-and-green for a day of prayer, music and protest.

At the North Star, the state’s iconic emblem in the center of the Capitol, Lena Buggs and Jim Brunsgaard faced off.

Buggs, 42, of St. Paul, and Brunsgaard, 56, of Hastings, took opposite positions in the competitive chanting and singing that rose from the first floor of the Capitol.

“Peace and Love!” chanted Buggs, a lesbian who supports the bill.

“No! Vote No!” chanted Brunsgaard, a committed Christian who fell to his knees across the star from Buggs. Others on his side joined in singing “Amazing Grace.”

After the vote, victorious same-sex marriage supporters spilled into the Capitol rotunda for a celebratory rally.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” supporters chanted gleefully outside the House chambers. As lawmakers walked out, they were greeted with the sort of earsplitting roars usually reserved for rock stars.

Before the House vote, DFL Gov. Dayton, who campaigned heavily against last November’s proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, said, “This is one of those society-changing, breakthrough moments.”

Should the bill pass the Senate, Dayton would sign it in a public ceremony and the measure would take effect Aug. 1.


©2013 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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