Same-sex marriage bill heads to House floor, supporters confident

Legislature opens
House Majority Leader Erin Murphy listens to comments during the first day of the legislative session at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. After months of lobbying behind the scenes, Murphy said the House is now poised to legalize same-sex marriage.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

The Minnesota Legislature is close to deciding whether to legalize same-sex marriage.

DFL leaders in the House, who have said they would not hold a vote unless they were certain a bill would pass, have scheduled a vote for Thursday.

After months of behind the scenes lobbying, House Majority Leader Erin Murphy said the House is now poised to legalize same-sex marriage.

"Our members have worked very hard in their districts talking with Minnesotans about their perspective and they searched their conscience and they are prepared to take this question up," said Murphy, DFL-St. Paul. "Of course, members will cast their vote and that will be the moment, but we feel confident at this point that we have the votes."

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"The vote that will be taken in the House on Thursday will be a vote that will be remembered for the next hundred years."

With the scheduled House vote, proponents of same-sex marriage have cleared a big hurdle. A vote could come soon in the Senate, where DFL leaders say there are enough votes to pass a bill. Gov. Mark Dayton has said he will sign a bill to legalize same-sex marriage if it arrives on his desk.

In recent days several Democrats representing rural Minnesota districts in the House have signaled that they will vote for the bill. But some acknowledge their vote will come with a political risk.

"It could cost me the election because I come from a really conservative area," said state Rep. Shannon Savick, DFL-Wells.

But Savick said she did not hesitate when asked whether she would support the bill. She said she's standing on her principles and mentioned that her younger brother is gay.

"I watched my brother being discriminated against when he was younger," she said. "I just don't see why he can't marry the person that he loves. I did."

House DFL leaders say they hope several Republicans will vote for the bil, but don't need GOP votes to pass it. Only one Republican -- state Sen. Branden Petersen of Andover -- has publicly said he would vote for the bill.

Others, like state Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, say they'll continue to push for an alternative bill that would allow civil unions. Kelly said he intends to offer the civil union language as an amendment during the House floor debate.

Rep. Tim Kelly
Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, speaks about his decision to vote against the marriage amendment Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012 in Red Wing. Kelly continues to push for an alternative bill that would allow civil unions.
Photo by Alex Kolyer for MPR News

"My message has been consistent from day one," Kelly said. "We should not be defining marriage in statute, and if we're all about protecting marriage then this is what we should be doing."

Kelly said he won't vote for the bill if his amendment isn't included.

Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United which has been lobbying for the bill's passage, called Thursday's scheduled vote "historic." He said he hopes some Republicans will back the bill once it comes time to vote. "The vote that will be taken in the House on Thursday will be a vote that will be remembered for the next hundred years," Carlbom said. "With that kind of historical significance I think it's a vote that every member of the Legislature will carefully consider."

The Senate version of the bill made its final stop before a floor vote in the Finance Committee. The committee approved the bill today after discussing its cost.

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Finance officials say the bill will cost Minnesota taxpayers nearly $700,000 a year because some state workers will add same-sex partners to their state health insurance. The analysis also found there will be a boost in marriage license fees of $190,000 if the bill becomes law.

Opponents of the legislation say they're not giving up their efforts to defeat the bill. State Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, warned some House members will lose their re-election campaigns because of this vote.

"I would behoove all legislators to go back to their district and find what is the overwhelming opinion of their people," Limmer said. "I believe in many cases the public will hold them directly responsible in November's election next year regarding the Minnesota House majority."

A spokesman for the Minnesota Senate said that if the House passes the bill on Thursday, the earliest the Senate could take up the same-sex marriage bill is Saturday.