Same-sex marriage bill clears Minn. House committee

Legislation to make same-sex marriage legal in Minnesota has cleared its last committee in the state House, and a long-anticipated floor vote could be coming by the end of the week.

Members of the House Ways and Means Committee briefly reviewed a recently-completed analysis of the bill's financial impact Monday night, before sending it on its way on a divided voice vote.

Lawmakers have not taken action on the bill to legalize same sex-marriage since mid-March. But a late-arriving financial analysis required legislators to schedule another committee review of the numbers. There was no debate, and the committee meeting was over in 10 minutes.

If my conscience says this is the right thing to do, I believe it's the right thing to do for the district and the state."

State budget officials predict it will cost taxpayers annually about $688,000 in additional benefits for state employees and their families. The state will also see a revenue boost of about $190,000 from same-sex couples buying marriage licenses.

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The bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, said afterwards that she was not surprised by the committee's approval.

"It's all good. I think people are seeing that there's a change in our state, our community. I'm just very optimistic," Clark said. "Of course, there could be challenges on the floor, we'll see."

The audible opposing votes on the Ways and Means Committee came from Republicans. But Deputy House Minority Leader Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, was not one of them. Loon said she is still trying to make up her mind on issue and did not vote for or against advancing the bill.

"The survey is one aspect. I've met with probably hundreds of people from my district on this issue," Loon said. "Talking to people who I know, who I trust who give me good advice, good sounding boards, and just doing a lot of reading and thinking."

House DFL leaders still are not revealing their plans for the bill or whether they have the 68 votes needed to pass it.

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, would only speak in general terms about the preparations.

"Members have been talking about this since before the session actually started, and they've been having great conversations in their districts, and they've been incredibly thoughtful. I've been talking with them alone; we've been talking together, and it is based on those conversations," Murphy said.

"That's how we're going to make our decision about when and if we take the bill up. I can't tell you right now if we have the votes or not."

The support of rural Democrats could make the difference, and some are stepping forward to announce their intentions. Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, said he decided to support the bill because he does not want to deny anyone the opportunity to marry the person they love.

"I promised the people of my district that I would always vote my conscience first, the good of the district second, the good of the state third, party fourth," Faust said. "If my conscience says this is the right thing to do, I believe it's the right thing to do for the district and the state. If I would vote no, I would be breaking my promise to the people of my district."

Some rural Democrats still will not indicate how they will vote, such as Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, who declined to answer questions.

"I'm not talking about it right now, and there's a lot of room to go before we get to that bill," Dill said.

Advocates on both sides of the issue have increased their lobbying efforts. Opponents of the bill gathered Monday at the Capitol to highlight what they see as a significant flaw in the proposed legislation. They claim it would inadequately protect the religious liberties of people who do not support same-sex marriage.

Jason Adkins, vice chairman of Minnesota for Marriage and executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, said he does not think the bill will pass in the House. However, he warned about what he believes are the potential consequences of its passage.

"Are we really going to punish and treat people as bigots who simply believe what societies all across the world have believed about marriage throughout human history?" Adkins said. "That is what is at stake here, and that's what will happen in Minnesota if marriage is redefined.

Supporters of the bill say it contains significant protections for people who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds.

Senate DFL leaders say they have the votes to pass the bill, and may even take it up ahead of the House. The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled its own review of the bill's fiscal note for later this morning.