Politics and Government

Minnesota House weighs constitutional amendment barring discrimination for gender identity, abortion

People stand around a rotunda
Attendees rally in support of the Equal Rights Amendment at the Minnesota State Capitol on Feb. 12.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Updated: 4:30 p.m.

The Minnesota House of Representatives debated, then tabled a bill Friday that would add a constitutional amendment barring discrimination based on someone’s race, class, color, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or “decisions about all matters relating to one’s own pregnancy or decision whether to become or remain pregnant.”

DFLers in the chamber said it was important for lawmakers to send the question to voters in 2026. If approved in both chambers, Minnesotans would decide whether to add the language to the state’s Constitution.

Republicans, meanwhile, said the amendment could abridge religious freedom and wasn’t transparent in what it would cover.

The proposal is expected to come up for a house vote later this weekend. With three voting days left in the legislative session, it’s not clear whether the measure could clear the Minnesota Senate. It would require all Democrats to vote together to move it forward.

Bill author Rep. Kaohly Her, DFL-St. Paul, said the state needed more explicit protections in its constitution to prevent future lawmakers or courts from passing laws or issuing rulings that could limit Minnesotans’ rights.

“We are a great state and our constitution says who we are and what we value. We want to make sure that as Minnesotans we are valuing each other by prohibiting discrimination, we must codify protections into the Constitution,” Her said. “Case law and statutes are subject to political winds and the makeup of the political leanings of judges. Rights should not hinge on these changes.”

Republicans in the chamber brought several amendments that would exempt private entities from the provision, add protections based on someone’s age and pare back the amendment to solely bar discrimination on the basis of sex.

House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, and other GOP lawmakers said the amendment could limit religious freedom and set back the rights of women and girls.

“Equality is not a political stunt. We believe in equal rights under the law. And the underlying bill does not provide that,” Demuth said. “It would be unconscionable to enshrine favoritism and inequality in the Minnesota State Constitution.” 

Democrats opposed the amendments and said that the amendment would help ensure the rights of women and girls, but also LGBTQ+ people and those who have an abortion. They also said that religious freedom is already guaranteed in the state and federal constitutions, and the amendment wouldn’t change that.

“To truly declare Minnesota a discrimination free zone we must root out discrimination in all forms. That is why the newest version very clearly states out loud and in plain English that we value uplifting all people,” Rep. Kristin Bahner, DFL-Maple Grove said. “We believe the laws of the state of Minnesota should clearly state that the highest level of scrutiny should ensure equality, freedom and autonomy in all its forms.”

Outside the chamber, supporters dressed in green raised signs that said “yes on ERA” and “demand equality.” They yelled out, “ho ho, hey hey, ERA right now today.” A handful of opponents dressed in red and carried signs outside the House chamber that said “Stop ERA.”

Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, on Friday told MPR News’ Morning Edition that her caucus had discussed it at length and would take it up if it reached them before the Legislature adjourns Monday. She didn’t say whether her caucus would put up the 34 votes to pass it.

“We are eager to see what the House does with the language, what they send us, and we will consider taking that up yet this weekend, depending on if they get it to us,” Murphy said.

The bill has spurred a political standoff at the Capitol over other issues like a capital investment bill, a raft of budget touch-up bills, a proposal to legalize sports betting and a proposal to boost funding to rural emergency medical services.

With three days left to vote this legislative session, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said Thursday that the House would move forward with the bill, despite a stipulation from Republicans that they would pull votes for a public construction project bill if the equal rights amendment moved forward.

“We will never trade infrastructure projects against Minnesotans’ civil rights,” Hortman told reporters. “We absolutely will not bargain on that.”

GOP leaders at the Capitol said publicly this week that they want Democrats to drop the ERA as part of a deal to pass a capital investment bill. Republicans have leverage over the bill and related issues because their votes are needed to let the state take on debt to fund projects.

As the end of session neared, Demuth said Thursday that the bonding bill was in jeopardy because Democrats weren’t meaningfully including Republicans in negotiations. She said that and efforts to cut off debate on the House floor Wednesday left GOP lawmakers frustrated.

“I would say everything is at risk right now,” Demuth told reporters. “Bonding, sports betting, Uber/Lyft, everything where Republican votes may be needed is at risk because of the action taken last night.”

Even if their votes aren’t needed to pass, Republicans could have a hand in what gets done before the end of the legislative session. They can burn down the remaining hours with floor debates and amendments.

Hortman has said she would cut off debate if it seems like Republican members are drawing out debate to postpone votes.

Gov. Tim Walz said he hopes Republicans will limit drawn out debates on the floor and allow the equal rights amendment to come up for a vote.

“They’re holding up legislative work up there, because they don’t want Minnesotans to vote, (on) whether women should have equal protections under the law and have reproductive freedoms, those seem like a pretty simple thing,” Walz told MPR News’ Morning Edition on Friday.

Walz said he does not plan to call a special legislative session and thought lawmakers could wrap up their business before Sunday at 11:59 p.m., the deadline for casting votes.

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