Same-sex marriage bills pass in House and Senate committees

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Historic marriage legislation is heading to Senate and House floors.

Senate and House committees on Tuesday (March 12) passed bills legalizing same-sex marriage.

“People fall in love,” Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, Senate bill author, said.


Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, holds a photo of children aloft during a Senate hearing Tuesday (March 12) on his marriage legislation, saying it's about families. (Photo by T.W. Budig)
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, holds a photo of children aloft during a Senate hearing Tuesday (March 12) on his marriage legislation, saying it’s about families. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

If passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature and signed into law, Minnesota would join nine other states in allowing marriage between same-sex couples.

“I will sign it,” Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said of the bill.

The legislation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line, five-to- three vote.

Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, emphatically voted “No.”

“We want to treat everybody with love and respect,” Hall said.

But it’s a “biological fact” men and women are complementary, he argued.

Further, Hall took offense at Carlson Companies Chairwoman Marilyn Carlson Nelson calling opposition to same-sex marriage “adult bullying.”


 A disgruntled looking Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, awaits the final vote on the marriage legislation in the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

A disgruntled looking Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, awaits the final vote on the marriage legislation in the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

“So they’re already name-calling,” Hall said.

Nelson, who argued to remain competitive the state needed to foster an inclusiveness appealing to younger workers, was joined by suburban pastors in supporting the legislation.

Edina Community Lutheran Church Pastor Erik Strand said passing same-sex marriage legislation bolsters the common good.

David Cobb, pastor at Spirit of Joy Disciples of Christ Church in Lakeville,  spoke of the moment’s ripeness for ending discrimination.

But opponents were vocal, too.

Katherine Kersten, a senior fellow at the Center of the American Experiment, warned of the loss of meaning for words like “mother” and “father” — iconic cultural change.

California State University Professor Robert Oscar Lopez, who is bisexual and was raised by same-sex parents — the gayest person in the room, he quipped — also expressed reservations.

An underlying rationale to same-sex marriage, Lopez argued, promotes a “property rights” mentality to raising children and severs tradition ties of family.

“You can’t replace these links lightly,” he said.

Abdighani Ali, imam of Masjid Shafici Cultural Center in Minneapolis, warned the legislation would prevent the religious from practicing their religion in public.

Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, said media reports have her support for the bill as mushy.

Not true, she explained.

“I don’t want to see it fail,” Goodwin said, expressing worry over the Senate vote count.

Committee Chairman Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, Goodwin, and three other Democrats voted for the legislation — it now goes to the Senate floor.

Republican senators Hall, Warren Limmer of Maple Grove, and Julianne Ortman of Chanhassen voted against.

Public testimony in the House Civil Law Committee was extensive.

An emotional former Rep. Lynne Osterman, R-New Hope, expressed deep regret that she voted for Defense of Marriage legislation as a lawmaker, a vote she characterized as placing political expediency ahead of fairness.

“I blew my vote,” Osterman said, turning to hug Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, House bill author, sitting beside her at the witness table.

But St. Thomas University Professor Teresa Collett expressed concern passage of the legislation would threaten free speech.

Jason Adkins of the Minnesota Catholic Conference also spoke against the bill, speaking of competing visions of marriage and the need for considering broader consequences.

The legislation, which passed the House committee on a party-line 10-to-7 vote, had committee members talking.

Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, repeatedly inquired about the bill’s impact on private business — would business people holding deeply held convictions become targets for lawsuits by refusing to provide service to same-sex couples, she asked.

University of Minnesota Law Professor Dale Carpenter insisted the state’s Human Rights Act, not the marriage legislation, held legal sway in such matters.

Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, didn’t buy it.

“In my personal opinion, I think it would,” he said of the bill opening business to legal actions.

Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker, said he had reviewed video of last session’s marriage amendment debate and asked why the objections Democrats made then — that the budget was the legitimate focus for lawmakers — weren’t applicable now.

Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, said the Civil Law Committee has a  metro-centric flavor and reminded members many Greater Minnesota residents do not support same-sex marriage.

Democrats countered that the bill takes great care in protecting the religious community.

Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, spoke of an “obligation to lead” on the marriage issue.

“Representative Clark,” said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, “I’m very proud of being here with you today.”

Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, argued Republicans, not Democrats, placed the marriage issue at the forefront.

“By putting the (amendment) question on the ballot, engaging in conversations with Minnesotans for two years, by having a vote, they put this issue before the Legislature,” Hortman said.

She was referring to the proposed state constitutional amendment that would have definined marriage as between one man and one woman.That amendment was defeated by voters in November.

“Democrats didn’t go looking for it. Democrats didn’t go ask for it. Here we are in power. And question is, ‘What shall we do?’” Hortman said recently.

“We are taking this issue up at our peril,” she said in committee.

Area Democrats Hilstrom, Hortman, Simon, and Winkler voted for the bill.

Republicans Holberg, Johnson, Newberger, Pugh and Scott voted against.

The House and Senate marriage bills are similar.

Both add an exemption to the state Human Rights Act to allow churches and other religious organizations to refuse actions relating the solemnization or celebration of marriages including providing services, facilities, or accommodations, that violate their religious beliefs.

The bills also stipulate churches or religious associations have exclusive control over whom they chose to marry and can refuse to solemnize a marriage without risk of fine, penalty, or civil lability.

Both House and Senate leaders have indicated the marriage legislation will not be debated on the House or Senate floors until the state budget has been dealt with.

That could take a number of weeks.

Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected]

  • Joe

    The truth about marriage the too few people are talking about:

    The truth of marriage is that it is, in its most basic form, discrimination. Once I have decided that I will no longer entertain calls of my lady friends because I have devoted myself to my wife, I have then discriminated against them in favor of another. The State, by endorsing my marriage with a Marriage License has enforced that discrimination as a matter of law. While I appreciate the State being concerned with my freedom to associate with whom ever I please, I don’t feel that the State should be discriminating or endorsing discrimination against any person(s). Even if any two people are able to marry the State will still be discriminating against single people. What if a person doesn’t want to get married, or isn’t attractive enough to catch the eye of a potential mate? Will they not be missing out the benefits that married people are receiving?

    The best way to deal with the “marriage” issue is to get the states and federal government out of the marriage business altogether.

  • Rosie from Rosemount


    Do you get a lot of calls from lady friends wanting to get even more friendly now that you are married?

    • Joe

      Its amazing once you dawn that wedding ring how the ladies flock to you. No worries though I will always remain fathfull to my family.

  • RollieB

    As a strong supporter of the freedom to marry, a strong ally to the LGBTQ community, I continue to be baffled by those who want to continue to marginalize a group of people. If this country stands for anything it is freedom from discrimination and in support of equality for all. Yes! …to ending discrimination and stopping the marginalizing of our citizens. We are all created equal.

  • Jan Dobson

    How about looking at marriage as a mechanism for clearly identifying parental responsibility and keeping track of familial blood lines? Removing the aspect of procreation from marriage removes the practical need for marriage.

    • RollieB

      If only the state would listen to you, Jan. However, there at least 515 Minnesota state laws that use marriage and it’s definition of a man and a woman, not two persons. Just change the legal definition to two persons and we’re good.

      • Jan Dobson


    • the lip

      So what about couples that are married that have not procreated, are they now considered not married? Or married couples that are beyond “procreation”, married or not. So if am I reading it correct, the only reason to get married is to procreate?
      Obviously I am confused with your post.

    • Joe

      By removing the need to get the approval a bureaucrat in order to marry in no way threatens the ability to get married. Marriage should not be a government institution but one that is between the couple, their family and friends, and God, if they so choose. If there were no more “legal” marriage would you run out on your spouse first thing? Your commitment to your spouse should be higher than any law.

      Paternal rights and responsibilities, from the perspective of the law, have nothing to do with marriage but a lot to do with birth certificates and an occasional blood test. Paternity should be the only relationship the State recognizes. As for familial blood lines, I don’t wish for my tax dollars to be spent on something like family trees. If you cannot track it yourself, you could pay to do so. All other legal business for marriages can easily be handled through contract law, which is what State marriage essentially is. As for tax implications, we could easily go to a consumption tax, like the FAIR tax and it wouldn’t be an issue.

      We need to get away from this idea that the State’s approval or disapproval is what gives something like marriage validity. We also need to stop asking the State to legislate morality, unless it is taking away some one else’s civil liberties.

      • Jan Dobson

        Hi Joe. The reference to following family bloodlines was not made from the viewpoint of a genealogical hobbyist. I was thinking more in terms of the fact that procreation between close relatives can result in profound devolution. In Saudi Arabia, marriage between first cousins is encouraged. That practice has been cited as probable cause for high incidences of infants born with, among other problems, eye abnormalities.

        For the record, I’m not advocating for state involvement in marriage. About the only legitimate role of government is protecting citizens.

  • RollieB

    “Removing the aspect of procreation from marriage removes the practical need for marriage.’

    “For the record, I’m not advocating for state involvement in marriage.”

    So, Jan who should “control” marriage? The church? Nobody?

    • Jan Dobson

      How about a private enterprise “registering” and “keeping track of” unions that have the capability of producing offspring?

  • Joe


    Thank you for you advocacy on the marriage issue. It easy to see that it is an important issue for you and that is great. A message that I have been trying to get across is that the importance of a life-long commitment between two people is given its importance by those two people, by their families and by their friends. Also, for many people, God’s blessing of this union, a “marriage,” is also very important.

    Thankfully we live in a country that has freedom of religion, where any religion can choose to recognize same sex couples. You asked Jan, “Who should control marriage?” I would say no one but I would think if any organizations did, it would be churches. That is not to say the secular couples, straight and gay alike, cannot still have meaningful commitment ceremonies.

    Two points to some up my position:

    1) The State should not discriminate when choosing what relationships to recognize so they are better off not recognizing any at all (except for paternal).

    2) While I support the freedom to marry, without the recognition by the State of any marriage, I also support an individuals right to disagree with me, you or on any issue. We, as people who support civil liberties and freedom of association, should be tolerant of people that choose to discriminate based on their beliefs. If a photographer chooses not to cater to a gay wedding, then they should be able to do so without threat of a law suit. Similarly, I can choose not to use a photographer based on my knowledge of their discrimination. We should let the market take care of bad business decisions.

    I urge people to shift their paradigm that receives the importance and meaning of things, like marriage, from government recognition. The importance and meaning of anything in life should come from you, your family and friends and from God.

  • RollieB


    Thanks for your reasoned response.

    My spouse of 46+ years and I are members of a church that performs “commitment ceremonies” or “blessing ceremonies” for same-gender partners. Our congregation and denomination recognize those unions as being equal to our hetero-marriage in the eyes of God. The problem of course is that those unions have no legal standing in Minnesota. State government controls marriage and uses the term “marriage” in 515 other laws to define rights and benefits of legally married couples. So, we’re stuck with the legal argument of defining marriage as between “one man and one woman,” or changing the definition to “two persons,” as is done in HF 1054/SF 925 and SF 1015, which were introduced in 2013 to make marriage laws gender neutral in Minnesota.

    Equality is a right in our constitution. Equality is all we’re seeking.

  • Jan Dobson

    Your position is a little unclear, Joe. Are you advocating for a greater intersection of church and state regarding marriage or are you advocating for no formal recognition at all of marriage?

    • Joe

      My position is that the government should not recognize marriage as a matter of law.

      Churches and other organizations should be free to formally acknowledge weddings.

      I believe that all the laws that exist that involve marriage, the 515 that RollieB has referenced, can be handled through contract law, guardian ad litem, and executorships. This would cover issues like dividing property in an event of separation, inheritance, health care decisions, visitation rights, and so on. Benefits in the tax code for married couples shouldn’t exist and we can fix that by switching the tax structure to consumption tax, such as the FAIR Tax. The main idea behind government recognizing marriage was to promote adding to the population but as we can see now our population is declining. What ever benefits or deductions that exist for having a family and adding to the population are simply not factoring into people decisions on whether or not to have children.