While putting the final touches on a House bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota, state Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, felt excited and inspired about the debate that will soon unfold.
Clark said the legislation provides a chance to move forward after the defeat last fall of a proposed constitutional amendment that would have made marriage only between a man and a woman, reinforcing a provision in state law. She's optimistic about her bill becoming law.
"I think we're on the brink of some historic opportunity," Clark said. "People have been getting ready for a long time and I have a lot of faith in my colleagues. The people of Minnesota spoke so strongly in this last election. So, I think, let's go."
The effort to legalize same-sex marriage takes center stage today at the State Capitol when supporters gather for a Valentine's Day rally aimed at highlighting their cause. Opponents have their own rally planned in three weeks.
"I think we're on the brink of some historic opportunity... The people of Minnesota spoke so strongly in this last election. So, I think, let's go."
Lawmakers on both sides of the issue are preparing for the anticipated debate. Clark plans to introduce her bill within the next week and state Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, also is preparing a bill. But neither lawmaker expects hearings or votes until later in the session, after the Legislature passes budget bills. Dibble, who said he thinks the Republican-sponsored marriage amendment was a divisive measure, described his marriage bill as "unifying."
"This is about making sure that everyone can enjoy freedom, everyone can be treated with dignity and respect; everyone can do well by themselves and their families," he said. "It's a far different proposition than what the Republicans were attempting to do, which was to create this atmosphere of division and hostility and intolerance to a particular set of individuals."
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Like Clark, Dibble believes Minnesota voters spoke clearly on the issue in November.
But a lawmaker on the other side of the issue said he thinks Dibble and others have misinterpreted the vote. State Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, pointed out that a recent poll showed most Minnesotans oppose same-sex marriage.
"I think the promoters of same-sex marriage are overly ambitious," said Limmer, chief sponsor of the bill that placed the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. "To read into something whether or not a definition of marriage should be written in the state constitution and equate that with this new policy to define marriage between two individuals — whether they're the same sex or not — would be a major mistake. It's not one issue that follows the other."
Limmer said he thinks Democrats in the Legislature from rural Minnesota will have the hardest time supporting a marriage bill, because their districts voted heavily in favor of the constitutional amendment.
First-term state Rep. Joe Radinovich is one of those rural lawmakers. Radinovich. DFL-Crosby, said he is not ready to say how he will vote on a bill he hasn't seen. But he stressed that his decisions as a legislator should be in the best interest of Minnesota, not just his district.
"I look forward to hearing more about where constituents are on either side of this issue and how they got to that place. I think that's one of the unique things about this conversation right now is that there are a lot of changing opinions out there. It's a rapidly moving public opinion. I just think that whatever happens this legislative session, that this is a constructive dialogue for Minnesotans to be engaged in right now."
Some Republicans who represent suburban districts that rejected the amendment also are trying to figure out how they will vote on a marriage bill. State Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, recently told reporters that she does not think Democrats should bring the bill forward, but has not yet taken a position on it.
"I need to do a lot more talking with the folks in my district about what this would mean and what they're supportive of, what their vote meant this fall," Loon said.
Gov. Mark Dayton has said he will sign a bill legalizing same-sex marriage if it reaches his desk, but hasn't specifically called on legislators to pass one. Dayton, a Democrat, said this week that he will do what he can to push the issue if asked.