Same-sex marriage bill unveiled at Capitol

Paul Melchert, James Zimerman
Dr. Paul Melchert, left, gets interrupted by his son, Emmett, as he attempts to address the media while his partner James Zimerman, right, holds Emmett's twin brother, Gabriel, during a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, in St. Paul, Minn. Lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday to legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

The push to legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota got underway Wednesday when two DFL legislators unveiled a bill that would strike down the prohibition currently in state law.

If passed, the measure would allow gay couples to marry starting this summer. But opponents argue that Minnesota simply isn't ready for what they call a radical change in the definition of marriage.

The legislation follows last November's defeat of a Republican-backed proposal to amend the state constitution to include a ban on same-sex marriage. Many of the same people behind that vote no campaign, including members of Minnesotans United, are now trying to convince lawmakers to vote yes on a marriage bill.

At a news conference surrounded by same-sex couples and their young children, state Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, one of the chief authors of the bill, said voters spoke loudly on the amendment.

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"It was a very clear statement, and I think we're now ready to take the next step, and it means everything to our families," Clark said. "It means everything in terms of the responsibilities and accountabilities and rights that we will be able to exercise in the future. And I'd like to thank all Minnesotans for helping to bring us here."

"I personally will go to jail before I ever perform a marriage to a homosexual."

It also helped that Democrats won control of the House and Senate, and that Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, has said he would sign a bill legalizing gay marriage if it reaches his desk. But the other chief author of the bill, state Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, stressed that it will take a lot of hard work among supporters to line up the votes needed to pass the bill.

"I just don't have the nose count. But I do know that this is not a partisan issue, that this is an issue that is shared broadly," Dibble said. "Because the values that this speaks to are the values that unite us, and they are much, much more important than those values that divide us."

The legislation has one Republican co-author, state Sen. Branden Peterson of Andover. Peterson did not attend the news conference, but in a written statement said he was proud to add his name to the bill "as a strong proponent of limited government, conservative principles and individual liberty."

Several other Republicans lined up during a later news conference to share some strong opinions against the legislation.

State Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said gay marriage supporters have wrongly interpreted last fall's vote as a mandate.

Clark, Dibble
Rep. Karen Clark and Sen. Scott Dibble, chief sponsors of the bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota, address the media during a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, in St. Paul, Minn.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

"It is in no way a mandate from the people of Minnesota," said Limmer, the chief author of the bill that placed the constitutional amendment question on the ballot. "The people simply said that they didn't want to include the definition of marriage, as it is written in Minnesota state law, and include it in the state constitution."

Limmer also urged Democrats who represent districts that voted for the amendment to listen to their constituents, even though his suburban district voted against it.

The bill includes a specific exemption based on religious beliefs. But other Republicans said they're still concerned about a potential infringement on their religious liberty. State Sen. Dan Hall, an ordained minister, said he doesn't want to be forced one day to perform a marriage that he objects to.

"I personally will go to jail before I ever perform a marriage to a homosexual," said Hall, R-Burnsville.

Warren Limmer
Sen. Warren Limmer listens to a question during a news conference held by opponents of a proposed bill to legalize same-sex marriage Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, in St. Paul, Minn. Limmer was the chief author of the gay marriage amendment which failed in the November election.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

Others raised concerns raised about the effect gay marriage could have on children who are raised by parents of the same sex. State Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, said he has read numerous studies that show children do better in a traditional family. Gruenhagen also said he believes homosexuality is a choice.

"The human genome map was completed in 2003," Gruenhagen said. "There is no gay gene, OK? So the concept of that you're born that way and it's an immutable characteristic is unscientific lie."

Autumn Leva, a spokeswoman for Minnesota for Marriage, which opposes the bill, called for a fair and transparent discussion that includes civil unions and other alternatives.

But Dibble said civil unions are unworkable and fall far short of what marriage means. House and Senate leaders have said votes on a marriage bill must wait until work on the state budget is largely complete.