Legislators brace for marriage vote fallout

Rep. Joe Radinovich
Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby, spoke about his support for legalizing same-sex marriage Thursday, May 9, 2013 at the State Capitol.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Same-sex marriage is a big step closer to being legal in Minnesota, with Thursday's state House vote 75-59 in favor. But groups on both sides of the issue are already measuring the political fallout from the vote and what it will mean for next year's election.

Four Republicans joined all but two Democrats to support the legislation. The House's action makes it all but certain that same-sex couples will be able to marry starting on Aug. 1.

Supporters gathered outside of the House chamber erupted in cheers after the vote. DFL House leaders who both supported the bill and ensured its passage were treated like rock stars as they left the House chamber.

Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, told a packed Capitol rotunda that their work was almost done.

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"It's not time to uncork the champagne yet, but it's chilling. It's chilling!" he said.

The bill now moves to the Senate for a vote scheduled Monday, and is all but certain to pass. A spokesman for Gov. Mark Dayton said he plans to sign it as soon as the next day.

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Even as supporters celebrated, DFL legislative leaders and others had already begun to worry about the political ramifications of the vote.

DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen reminded the audience that a lot of rural Democrats and suburban Republicans took a risky political stand.

"We have a lot of people who stood up today to do the right thing, and we're going to need to stand with them in the future as they go back to their communities," Thissen said.

Some Republicans and Democrats acknowledged during and after the debate that their votes could have political consequences. Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, told the House that a majority of voters in his district voted last November for the constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and woman, effectively banning same-sex marriage. He said many who oppose same-sex marriage cite religious scripture. But Faust, a Lutheran pastor, said he repeatedly asked who has the right to impose their religious beliefs on others.

Same-sex marriage supporters
Same-sex marriage supporters celebrate outside the House chamber Thursday, May 9, 2013 in St. Paul after representatives voted 75-59 in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

"And so today we have the opportunity to give a part of our population -- fellow brothers and sisters of God -- the same rights that most of us have taken for granted," Faust said.

Four Republicans bucked their party to vote for the bill: Jenifer Loon of Eden Prairie, David FitzSimmons of Albertville, Pat Garofalo of Farmington and Andrea Kieffer of Woodbury.

All of them said an amendment that strengthened protections for religious institutions gave them more comfort to back the bill. Fitzsimmons said he offered the amendment to ease concerns about religious freedom.

"This bill had 71 Democratic votes. It needed 68 to pass. It has plenty to pass with or without us," Fitzsimmons said. "I will stand by that what we did was everything we could to protect people's right of conscience and protect people's religious beliefs and religious institutions."

None of the Republicans who voted for the bill said they worried that their votes would cause them political problems in the future.

But there are groups paying attention. Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for the pro same-sex marriage group Minnesotans United, said his organization will work to ensure some of those members get re-elected.

"We're going to get down to business and get down to work on Tuesday after the Senate passes this and we're going to figure out that the folks who stood on the right side of history have the support that they need to continue to stand on principle and vote their conscience," Carlbom said.

On the other side of the issue, John Helmberger, CEO of the Minnesota Family Council, acknowledged there is little his organization can do to stop the bill from becoming law. He said they will start working on efforts to repeal it with a focus on the gubernatorial race and the House in 2014. Helmberger said he was particularly disappointed in the Republicans and rural Democrats who backed the bill.

"If what you're asking is are we thinking about affecting change in the Legislature and the governor's office? Yes," Helmberger said. "But that will be a long-term proposition, since the Senate will be up in four years. But that will be a long-term effort."

Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, has said he will vote for the bill. It isn't clear whether other senators from his party will join him.