Senate Republicans try to block same-sex marriage bill

Marriage rally
Opponents of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota gathered in the State Capitol Rotunda to voice their opposition Thursday, March 7, 2013, in St. Paul, Minn.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

The day after legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota cleared two committees, Senate Republicans tried to derail the measure with some parliamentary maneuvering.

They failed to stop the bill's progress but tried to use it to put some pressure on some rural Democrats.

The maneuvering began on the Senate floor, when Republican Sen. Warren Limmer objected to a routine motion to adopt a report from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved the same-sex marriage bill a day earlier on a party-line vote.

The objection forced a recess of the floor session and sent the matter to the Senate Rules Committee, where Limmer explained that he had received information showing the bill could cost the state $688,000 in added insurance benefits to state employees.

Warren Limmer
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, in a file photo from Feb. 27, 2013. Limmer was the chief author of the same-sex marriage amendment which failed in the November 2012 election. He tried to derail a measure to legalize same-sex marriage with some parliamentary maneuvering during a Senate floor session on March 13, 2013.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

"This is only a preliminary note. I don't know if there's any added expenses to it," said Limmer. "But I think it certainly would cause us to pause a little bit to get the full ramifications of the fiscal cost."

Limmer, who represents Maple Grove, also speculated that there might be additional court costs related to expanding the definition of marriage. He tried unsuccessfully to refer the bill to the Senate Finance Committee for further discussion.

Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, the finance committee chair, described the preliminary fiscal note and its estimates about potential same-sex marriages as "totally guesswork."

"This is an unusual fiscal note. It's a fiscal note built on an assumption on an assumption on an assumption on an assumption," said Cohen. "It seems to me this kind of fits into how many angels fit on the head of a pin."

The debate was repeated on the Senate floor. But when it was time to vote on adopting the committee report, Republicans were no longer arguing about the need for more fiscal analysis.

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 it.
MPR photo/Tim Pugmire

GOP Senate Minority Leader David Hann emphasized what he believed to be the meaning of the vote. Hann read from the parliamentary manual to make his point.

"When we adopt a committee report we are in effect endorsing -- and this is the quote: '...the statement or expressing its approval by the body' of the substance of the report," said Hann. "And it has the effect of 'expressing approval or endorsing the findings or recommendations' of the report. So members, what we're doing by adopting the report that is before us is we're adopting same-sex marriage in Minnesota."

Republicans have previously said that rural Democrats will have a tough time voting for the bill, when a majority of their constituents oppose same-sex marriage.

DFL Senators Kent Eken of Twin Valley, Lyle Koenen of Clara City, Leroy Stumpf of Plummer and Dan Sparks of Austin joined Republicans in opposition to the adoption. Another DFLer, Sen. Rod Skoe of Clearbrook, did not take the bait. Skoe said he disagreed with Hann's characterization of what the vote meant.

"Did it become law today? I mean it's just not the case at all," said Skoe. "There were no amendments offered, there was no third reading. This was just a procedural move today to accept the committee report on the floor of the Senate and that's all it is. I don't view this as any indication of how somebody feels about the issue and definition of marriage."

Skoe said he thinks he knows how he'll vote on the marriage bill when it returns for a Senate vote later in the session. But he said he's not yet ready to share that decision.

Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, who is a co-author of the marriage bill, voted with Democrats in favor of adopting the committee report.