Same-sex marriage debate moves to the Capitol

State Sen. Scott Dibble
State Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, plans to introduce a bill later this session that would grant marriage rights to same sex couples. Dibble holds a photo of himself with his husband, Richard Leyva, whom he married in California in 2008 during the brief period that state allowed same sex couples to marry.
MPR photo/Sasha Aslanian

The hard-fought battle over same-sex marriage that dominated Minnesota politics last year is likely to continue in some fashion during the legislative session that begins Tuesday.

With the defeat of the marriage amendment and the Republican majorities that sponsored it, DFLers who favor marriage rights for same-sex couples see their opening. But opponents say the defeat of the amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman does not necessarily add up to support for same sex marriage.

Although voters rejected the proposed constitutional amendment in November, state law still prohibits same-sex marriage. But there won't be a bill to legalize same-sex marriage on day one of the session. The first order of business, say DFLers who now control both chambers, is balancing the state budget, dealing with jobs and the economy and stabilizing school funding.

"I think most important for us is to engage in a continued conversation with Minnesotans and that has to happen both inside the Capitol and outside of the Capitol."

When it comes to marriage, incoming House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, describes a go-slow approach.

"On the question of marriage freedom and marriage equality, I think most important for us is to engage in a continued conversation with Minnesotans and that has to happen both inside the Capitol and outside of the Capitol," Murphy said. "I really think the work of organizations like Minnesotans United in conducting that discussion with the people of Minnesota is going to set the tone and the pace for this issue in this legislative session and going forward for the state of Minnesota."

Minnesotans United for All Families, the campaign that successfully defeated the amendment, announced last month it plans to stay in existence and push for legalizing same-sex marriage at the Legislature.

DFL State Sen. Scott Dibble of Minneapolis will be the chief sponsor of that effort, but like Murphy, he said the issue is part of a larger conversation about helping Minnesota families care for each other.

"We're trying to avoid though, having this take over the session and becoming the only thing that we talk about," Dibble said. "And so I think properly situating it and taking it up in due time is the prudent course of action."

Opponents of same-sex marriage say they are not giving up the fight. Minnesota for Marriage, the group that tried to pass the amendment, recently held a closed-door strategy meeting with legislators and religious leaders to discuss ways to block same-sex marriage.

Marriage amendment defeat
People celebrating the defeat of the marriage amendment energized the crowd gathered for a "United for Our Future" post-election rally Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 on the Capitol mall in St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Republican Sen. Dave Thompson of Lakeville, who voted to put the marriage amendment on the ballot two years ago, cautions Democrats not to overreach.

"Maybe what we learned from the marriage amendment debate and the outcome is, you know, folks in Minnesota are OK with the way things are," Thompson said. "And I think you know, perhaps either side tries to push it too much beyond that is going to run into resistance and pay the bill at the ballot box."

The Minnesota Campaign Finance Board is still tallying the costs of lobbying for both sides of the marriage amendment debate. Final reports in the record-breaking campaign won't be due until the end of the month.

Same-sex marriage opponents
John Helmberger, Minnesota for Marriage chairman, spoke to a room of marriage amendment supporters at the Embassy Suites in Bloomington, Minn. Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.
Caroline Yang for MPR

Executive director Gary Goldsmith said his office is understaffed, and struggling to catch up on its oversight of the money that streamed into the amendment campaign.

"I'm aware of a couple that we're going to look into when we have time because they do raise issues," Goldsmith said. "I'm also aware of one that we're looking into right now because it appears that the entity that was not registered with us actually should have been. I don't know when we will get to that, sometime in the next several months."

Goldsmith says the problem is that by the time the Campaign Finance Board publishes its findings, the next lobbying battle at the capitol will be well under way.

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