Republicans introduce legislation legalizing civil unions

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

It’s more important than politics, Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said of finding compromise on marriage.

“The purely political answer,” Garofalo said, “is that nothing would be more damaging to Democrats than jamming gay marriage down the state’s throat.”

“I am a Catholic,” Garofalo said. “And marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman and God. If this is about protecting individual rights, if this is about consenting adults, civil unions accomplishes that without getting involved in matters of faith important to myself and others.”

Garofalo was one of several House Republicans, including Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, who appeared at a Capitol press conference Wednesday, in support of civil-union legislation carried by Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing.

The Republicans are pursuing the bill five months after Minnesota voters rejected the Republican-sponsored marriage amendment, which would have defined marriage as the union between one man and one woman. Legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage awaits action on House and Senate floors.

Wednesday, the Republican legislators portrayed civil unions — a contractual term to be included in state law whenever terms like “marriage” are used — as a means to avoid pitting the state against itself over the marriage issue.

“This brings Minnesota together,” said Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings.

Minnesota for Marriage Spokeswoman Autumn Leva said her group, which opposes same-sex marriage, is withholding judgment on the civil-union legislation.

Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, said he has been deep into the education bill, understanding the agriculture regulations and trying to sort out the impact the health and human services cuts will have on long-term care and assisted living facilities.

“As a result, I haven’t had anytime to read the bill or to understand the impact on state statute,” he said. “As far as civil unions and redefining marriage, there are no shortcuts in life to love and successful parenting. If the bill were to come to the floor, I would take time to evaluate the exact impact, but at this point I don’t anticipate that happening.”

“Maybe we should get back to the budget,” he said.

Voices in support of marriage equity were quickly heard.

House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, called civil unions a concept out of the past, one creating a “new separate and unequal category for same-sex couples in our state.”

Dayton Press Secretary Katharine Tinucci sounded similar tones.

“Minnesota has moved beyond the question of civil unions – the question before us is whether marriages will be recognized, and the governor believes it is the Constitutional right of any person to legally marry the person that he or she loves,” she said in an e-mail.

“There is no substitute for marriage,” said Jake Loesch, communications director for Minnesotans United, a pro same-sex marriage group.

Loesch, as did Thissen recently, said there was no hard vote count on the marriage legislation.

But it will pass when brought up, he said.

Thissen recently said the marriage legislation would not hit the House floor unless enough votes exist to pass it.

Democrats have insisted work on the state budget get done before the marriage issue is addressed.

A Star Tribune poll from early March showed the majority of Minnesotans opposed legalizing same-sex marriage.

Voters in his district are “overwhelmingly” supportive of civil unions as an alternative to it, Garofalo said.

He would try, Kelly said, to get a committee hearing on his civil union bill, but the legislation could be brought up as an amendment on the House floor.

Kelly expressed astonishment that Democrats hadn’t proposed a civil union bill themselves.

Same-sex marriage cases are now before the U.S. Supreme Court.