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]