Historic same-sex marriage vote brings emotional crowd to Capitol

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

Same sex-marriage, an issue that's dominated Minnesota politics for two years, may soon become a reality after a state House vote on Thursday. And as lawmakers debated the issue, thousands of people representing opposing views filled the Capitol rotunda, hoping to influence the historic moment.

Among them were the Holt family, of Corcoran, Minn. As supporters of the bill chanted "Equal rights!" close by, some of the Holt children, their ears packed with tissues, did their best to outshout them.

"Please vote no! Please vote no!" they implored, their young voices cutting through the background noise.

Their mother, Mary Lou Holt, said she brought six of her eight children to protest the bill's passage.

"I believe children need mothers and fathers. I think the state sanction of something that would exclude women, that would exclude mothers, is wrong," Holt said.

Though extra security was on hand, the clash of opinions was mainly civilized.

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"In the name of Jesus say no!" urged Ernest Low, Jr. of St. Paul, as he strode through the rotunda.

"I'm saying say yes in the name of Jesus!" countered Patty Taylor, also of St. Paul, who carried a sign saying she'd been happily married for 37 years. "I'm a proud Catholic saying yes, yes, yes!"

Minnesota for Marriage, a group opposing the bill, held regular prayer circles throughout the day.

"I've been praying for the Holy Spirit to do his work here," said Mary Johnson of northeast Minneapolis, as she stood outside the doors of the House chamber. "I pray that he will hear the small still voice and that he will protect marriage and keep it as one man one woman."

On the other side of the issue, faith leaders from Clergy United for All Families gathered at the top of a stairwell to pray and sing.

"We're going to do periodic vigils just to remember that we're here in a spirit of prayer and groundedness and love, and not get too pulled into shouting one another down, but really trying to engender a spirit of love and family, that we embody the values that we're espousing," said Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, a United Church of Christ pastor with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.


After three hours of singing, praying, chanting, and cheering outside the House chamber, lawmakers finished their speeches inside, and pressed their vote buttons. Crowds made up mostly of same-sex marriage supporters huddled around video monitors, watching as green "yes" votes and red "no" votes lit up the board.

There was a brief moment of stunned silence as 75 green lights blinked on, showing gay marriage had passed by a generous 16-vote margin. Then, a roar went up from supporters. They embraced, cried, and snapped pictures of the historic moment.

The vote represented a reversal of fortune from two years ago, when same-sex marriage opponents put the marriage amendment on the general election ballot. It appeared then that Minnesota might become the 31st state to prohibit same sex marriage in its state constitution.

Now, it could become the12th state to legalize it.

As supporters whooped and chanted, "Thank you!" to lawmakers, some opponents stood their ground, keeping their signs raised during the victory party in the rotunda.

"I think it's unfortunate. I think our children will suffer," said Kris, a same-sex marriage opponent from White Bear Lake who refused to give her last name citing a fear of getting hate mail for her position.


Bill supporter Tim Sneer, of Hopkins, wore his T-shirt from the marriage amendment campaign to the Capitol, taping the word "yes" over the dated "vote no" slogan. He noted the progression, from being on the defensive last year, to making an affirmative case at the Capitol six months later. It was a rollercoaster of a day, he said.

"I wouldn't have missed it for anything" Sneer said, adding that he now hopes to marry his partner of 24 years.

Others saw the day's victory in even longer terms.

"I'm especially missing Allan Spear today," said Eileen Scallen of Minneapolis, referring to Minnesota's first openly gay lawmaker who fought a 20-year battle to win human rights protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Minnesotans. Spear died in 2008.

"Wherever he is in the afterlife," said Scallen, "I hope he's just beaming ear to ear."