Same-sex marriage has votes to clear Minn. House panel

Marriage rally
Hundreds gathered at the State Capitol Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 in St. Paul, Minn., where supporters of same-sex marriage called for Minnesota lawmakers to legalize same-sex marriage.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

A bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota has enough votes to clear one of its first legislative hurdles, over protests from opponents.

Nine of the 17 members of the House Civil Law Committee told The Associated Press that they would be voting for the legislation that repeals the state law defining marriage as between opposite-sex couples only. That would be enough votes for the bill to get through the committee so it could head to the full House.

Minnesota for Marriage was holding a Thursday afternoon rally in the Capitol rotunda, hoping to slow the bill's momentum ahead of hearings next Tuesday in the House committee and in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Success in Senate Judiciary looks nearly as likely. Four of eight members told the AP they'd vote yes; a fifth, DFL Sen. Barb Goodwin, said she supports same-sex marriage but is uncomfortable moving so quickly to legalize it in Minnesota. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Scott Dibble, said he was confident of winning over Goodwin.

All the confirmed yes votes in both committees come from Democrats, who hold the House and Senate majorities. So far, only one Republican lawmaker out of 89 has committed to supporting the bill.

"I never pretended I would do anything but support it," said Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester. "It's just the right thing to do and I can't even imagine voting another way."

Both the House and Senate chairmen said the next stop after their committees would be the House and Senate floors. Dibble said those votes would not be likely for at least a few more weeks, as the bill's supporters and lobbyists hired by same-sex marriage backers look to assemble the 68 House votes and 34 Senate votes needed for passage. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has said he would sign the bill.

Of the nine confirmed yes votes in the House Civil Law Committee, only Liebling hails from a district not in Minneapolis, St. Paul or its suburbs.

"I said on my website as a candidate that I support the freedom to marry for gay couples," said freshman Rep. Barb Yarusso, DFL-Shoreview, who represents suburbs north of St. Paul. "I think it promotes stable families and communities in the same way that heterosexual marriage does."

The toughest challenge for the bill's supporters is likely to be nailing down votes from Democrats with large rural constituencies. A Star Tribune poll published Wednesday found much stronger support for legalizing same-sex marriage in the Twin Cities than in more rural parts of the state.

Of the Civil Law Committee's 10 DFL members, only Rep. Paul Rosenthal of Edina was not a definite yes. He said he didn't want to commit because he hadn't read the bill.

Senate Judiciary Democrats also hail from the Twin Cities, except Sen. Kathy Sheran of Mankato. She said she views same-sex marriage as inevitable after the defeat of last fall's constitutional amendment to ban it.

"That door was opened and we can't close it now," Sheran said. "Now's the time to say where we're at on the deal. Some people might want a longer conversation, but it's too late now to go back."