By Heather J. Carlson
The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
ST. PAUL — Surrounded by same-sex couples and their children at the state Capitol, DFL lawmakers unveiled legislation on Wednesday to legalize gay marriage in Minnesota.
“This is a day to be very, very proud to be a Minnesotan,” said bill sponsor Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis. “Many, many Minnesotans over these past many years have been extremely brave, living their lives with courage, with openness, with authenticity, asking that they be granted the same freedoms that are guaranteed to everyone in our state.”
The bills were set to be formerly introduced in the House and Senate on Thursday, setting the stage for what will likely be a heated, emotional battle in St. Paul. Republican lawmakers opposed to gay marriage vowed Wednesday to do whatever they can to defeat the measure.
“It’s important for me on principle," said Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester. "I believe in traditional marriage. I think marriage between one man and one woman is a model for rearing children and important culturally, and it has been since the beginning of time.”
The legislation does have one Republican co-sponsor — Sen. Brandon Petersen, of Andover. Under the bill, same-sex couples would be able to marry beginning Aug. 1. But the bill specifically states that religious clergy could not be forced to marry gay couples and includes the so-called “Knights of Columbus hall provision,” which gives religious organizations the right to deny the use of their facilities for gay weddings.
Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, said she appreciates that language was added to protect religious freedom, but she is not sure how she will vote on the proposal.
“I won’t be a co-author, and I am reserving this time to think about this and get feedback from constituents,” she said. “This isn’t about my personal opinion. This is about what my constituents want.”
The two groups that went head-to-head during last year’s amendment campaign are once again facing off at the Capitol. Minnesotans United for All Families is backing the measure and organized a rally two weeks ago, calling on lawmakers to pass legislation legalizing gay marriage this year. Minnesota for Marriage has vowed to fight the measure and has organized a Capitol rally on March 7 to urge lawmakers to keep marriage between one man and one woman.
Getting the legislation to pass will likely require some Republican support, because some Democrats oppose gay marriage. If the bill does pass the Legislature, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has made clear he supports same-sex marriage.
Two years ago, Red Wing Republican Rep. Tim Kelly broke ranks with his party to vote against a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. But Kelly does not support the push to legalize gay marriage. He said he opposed the amendment because it amounted to the government getting involved in the definition of marriage, and this bill would do the exact same thing. Just because voters rejected the marriage amendment does not mean they support legalizing gay marriage.
“I really do think (supporters) are making an error in judgment. They are being overzealous and overreaching and are missing an opportunity to really take care of the inequities, the discriminatory issues that I have been approached with every year since I’ve been here,” Kelly said.
The Red Wing lawmaker said he plans to introduce a bill this session looking to fix some of the legal inequities that same-sex couples face.
The same-sex couples who gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday with their children said it is time they have the right to be legally married. Rabbi Michael Adam Latz traveled to St. Paul with his partner, Michael, and their two daughters. They were married legally in Canada a year ago, but that marriage is not recognized in Minnesota.
“Right here, in my home state of Minnesota, the place where I was born, where we live, work, pay taxes and raise our children, we are legal strangers,” Latz said. “There are thousands of children like ours being raised by same-sex couples in Minnesota today. These children suffer each and every day that their parents are excluded from marriage.”
Opponents of the bill argue that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to gay marriage being taught in schools and could end up infringing on individuals’ religious liberties.
Burnsville Republican Sen. Dan Hall said he fears future Legislatures could get rid of the language included in this bill to protect religious leaders, resulting in clergy being forced to marry gay couples.
“I personally will got to jail before I perform a marriage to a homosexual,” said Hall, a chaplain.
Rep. Duane Quam, R-Bryon, said he is leaning towards voting against the same-sex marriage bill but has not had a chance to see the bill language. “Frankly, there are many issues and bills before committees right now that I see as a focus.”