Historic House vote approves same-sex marriage legislation

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

The Democratic-led House in a bipartisan vote Thursday, May 9, approved marriage legislation legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota.

Crowds crammed into the sweltering State Capitol to witness the historic vote — sergeants at the House Chamber doors wore earplugs against the roar — with the legislation passing on a 75-59 vote.

Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, watches the vote board as her marriage legislation, which would legalize same-sex marriage, passes the House Thursday (May 9) on a 75 to 59 vote. A handful of House Republicans joined Democrats in passing the bill. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, watches the vote board as her marriage legislation, which would legalize same-sex marriage, passes the House Thursday (May 9) on a 75 to 59 vote. A handful of House Republicans joined Democrats in passing the bill. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Three area Republicans, Pat Garofalo of Farmington, Jenifer Loon of Eden Prairie, and Andrea Kieffer of Woodbury voted with Democrats.

“I think it’s a momentous day,” Rep, Jerry Newton, DFL-Coon Rapids, said after having the House marriage bill author autograph a copy of the bill for a keepsake.

Indeed, Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, who voted against the bill, was caught-up in the raw-throated Democracy outside the House Chamber.

“I love the moment,” he said.

He’d rather be outside with the demonstrators, he said.

Not that debate in the House was tepid.

Lawmakers strenuously argued their positions, sometimes pausing when emotions welled.

House bill author Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, a lesbian lawmaker, saw her legislation amended, attacked.

Rep. David FitzSimmons, R-Albertville, with a go-ahead from Clark, successfully amended the bill to insert the word “civil” in references to marriage.

Fitzsimmons, who voted for the bill, said the addition of the word was to make plain that what happens in the courthouse and what happens in a church, synagogue, or mosque in terms of marriage are two different things.

Clark’s legislation already contained a provision stating religious organizations, associations, or societies have sole control over their doctrine and that a license or ordained minister cannot be fined, penalized or subject to civil liability for refusing to solemnize a marriage for any reason.

Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, attempted to replace Clark’s legislation with a civil union provision.

“The debate is over one word — ‘marriage,’” Kelly said.

Under Kelly’s provision, any two adults could enter into a civil union.

Democrats spoke out against civil unions.

An exasperated-looking House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, stand on the House floor while delivering some closing remarks on the marriage debate. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

An exasperated-looking House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, stand on the House floor while delivering some closing remarks on the marriage debate. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-Hopkins, styled the provision an assault on traditional marriage.

“(It) undoes 1.1 million marriages in the state of Minnesota,” Simon said.

Kelly rejected the argument.

“There is no way government can take away my marriage,” he said.

But Kelly’s amendment failed on a 111-22 vote.

Area Republican lawmakers Garofalo, Loon, Denny McNamara of Hastings, Marion O’Neill of Buffalo, Cindy Pugh of Chanhassen, and Mark Uglem of Champlin voted for civil unions.

Many lawmakers spoke of the marriage legislation over the three-hour floor debate.

Rep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-Fridley, styled her “Yes” vote as for “liberty, love and justice for all Minnesotans.”

Rep. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, a public health attorney, cited legalities excluding non married couples from having the same rights as married couples in making health care decisions.

Rep. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, hugs Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, House marriage bill author, moments after the House voted to pass Clark's bill. Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, Senate marriage bill author, (left) rests his hand on Clark's back. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Rep. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, hugs Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, House marriage bill author, moments after the House voted to pass Clark’s bill. Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, Senate marriage bill author, (left) rests his hand on Clark’s back. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Rep. Pam Myhra, R-Burnsville, said children have a right to have a mother and father.

“Do we really want a genderless society?” Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, asked.

Rep. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan, said families aren’t all the same.

For instance, her children are adopted.

“(But) when it comes to moms, they don’t get more real than me,” she said, smiling.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Republicans in putting the marriage amendment on the ballot looked at just one side of the marriage debate and not the other.

The issue is divisive, he said.

“I fear you are making the same mistake today,” Daudt said.

“Debate on the issue was respectful and emotional,” said Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, who voted no. “The correspondences I have received suggest Minnesotans are divided.”

But the House passed the legislation, DFL lawmakers, such as Clark, roaringly cheered afterward as they stepped outside the House chamber.

One Senate Republican, Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, who is expected to vote for the bill, briefly spoke at pro-legislation rally that took place after the House vote.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers view the marriage legislation as historic.

“Clearly it’s a historic vote,” House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

“This is obviously a lot bigger issue than about me,” Thissen said when asked whether he would like to be remembered for the marriage bill.

“If that’s something that I’m remembered for, I think that would be terrific,” he said.

Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, also views the marriage legislation as historic.

“Absolutely it is — once in a lifetime,” Davids said.

And it’s also troubling.

“Because once this vote is finalized, it will most likely never change. So it’s changing the landscape for years to come,” Davids said.

A bill supporting gay marriage goes before the Democratic-led Senate Monday. The Senate will convene at 1 p.m.

Currently Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Washington D.C., New York, Maine, Washington, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Delaware have legalized same-sex marriage.

Tim Budig can be reached at tim.budig@ecm-inc.com

More photos are available in this photo gallery.

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