Same-sex marriage supporters jubilant; opponents say issue not settled

Sen. Scott Dibble waves to supporters after the Senate voted 37-30 to legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota Monday, May 13, 2013 at the State Capitol.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Gov. Mark Dayton is scheduled to sign a bill Tuesday afternoon that will legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota. But opponents of the legislation argue even though they lost this round the issue is not settled.

The signing ceremony on the Capitol steps will recognize the many supporters of same-sex marriage legislation in Minnesota, thousands of whom flooded the Capitol in the last week to lobby for the bill.

Over the past two years, they whipsawed from focusing on defeating a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage to passing a bill that legalizes it. On Aug. 1, same-sex couples will be able to get married in Minnesota. The state will also recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

"Guess what? I'm going to be a married man in Minnesota," said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, speaking at a rally following Monday's Senate vote. Dibble is the chief author of the same-sex marriage bill. He married his partner, Richard, a few years ago in California.

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"This conversation does not stop today. We continue this conversation. We continue to build this movement," Dibble said. "I invite people who are not necessarily happy today to open up your hearts. Look at the beauty in this rotunda. How can this be anything but good?"

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 37-30. One Republican voted for it. Three Democrats voted against it. The debate was mostly civil, with both sides discussing how their vote will be viewed in the future.

Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said he expects life to return to normal soon after Aug. 1.

Lisa Skokan, right, and Valerie Andrade, who have been a couple for 18 years, hugged after the Senate's 37-30 vote in favor of same-sex marriage in Minnesota Monday, May 13, 2013 at the State Capitol.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

"Hopefully, when we pass this bill in a few minutes or a few hours, that you will find that next year when we come back here that everything is going to be OK in Minnesota," Hayden said. "People are going to be fine and that we'll find something else to disagree about but this won't be one of them."

Hayden predicts few problems as a result of the bill, but there is still trepidation about the issue in Minnesota. Two of the Democrats who voted against the measure said their districts overwhelmingly voted to ban same-sex marriage last November in a proposal to amend the state Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

"I think at the end of the day though, it really was not a personal vote for me, it was more about representing the district and their wishes," Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, said after the vote. "Last November, over 60 percent of the voters turned out in support of traditional marriage, so I think it was important for me to reflect their views as we voted today."

Opponents of the bill say they are worried about the effects it could have on religious groups and business owners who object to same-sex marriage. Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, was unsuccessful in pushing an amendment that would give greater protections to those groups. He later warned that the debate is not over.

"No matter what the vote is today, it's not going away. They talked about how we might be the 12th state that passes this. Well 32 went the other way," Gazelka said. "So how we get through this, after this, is what I'm concerned about."

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, suggested the law could be challenged in court.

Same-sex marriage supporters embrace happily after the Senate approved the bill 37-30 Monday, May 13, 2013 at the State Capitol.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

And even though four House Republicans voted for the bill last week, only one Senate Republican, Branden Petersen of Andover, voted for it.

Petersen said he is disappointed no other Republicans joined him. It's possible he will lose his seat because of his vote to legalize same-sex marriage, he said, but he believed it was the right thing to do. He said he thinks it would be a mistake for Republicans to whipsaw Minnesota yet again by trying to repeal the law.

"Not a single Republican has publicly spoken about a repeal of the law if it were to become law and I hope that they don't," Petersen said. "I think that Minnesotans will overwhelmingly reject that idea."

Petersen said he thinks younger voters support the bill in large numbers - a key group he says Republicans will need if they want to remain viable in future election cycles.