Will It Be Marriage or Civil Unions For Minnesota?

A late April snowstorm descended upon Minnesota Thursday afternoon as nearly 500 people gathered on the steps of the state Capitol. No, they weren’t protesting the weather. Rather, these were hardy same-sex marriage supporters who showed up to pressure state legislators to pass a marriage equality bill before the 2013 legislative session ends next month.

The message: We’ve Got a lot of Work to do and We’re Going to Get it Done!

Chants of “Whose Love? Our Love!” and “Whose House? Our House!” rang out amid the lineup of speakers including Gov. Mark Dayton, State DFL Representatives Susan Allen and Karen Clark and DFL State Sen. Scott Dibble. Clark and Dibble are the principal authors of a same-sex marriage bill that DFLer Dayton says he will sign when and if it lands on his desk.

However, before he puts ink to paper on that bill, legislators must deal with a lesser marriage equality proposal put forth by Red Wing Republican lawmaker Tim Kelly. That bill would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions but not permit them to legally marry. Dayton says Kelly’s measure won’t do.

“People don’t want to get civil union-ed, they want to get married,” Dayton told the roaring crowd in St. Paul. He cited the Constitution’s equal protection clause, saying that, “you have a right, if you’re an American citizen, to the same guarantees, same protections as everyone else.”

Rep. Kelly, who was one of four Republican lawmakers who voted against the 2012 Constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage, says gay marriage supporters are overreaching in the push for a bill legalizing marriage for all. Civil unions, he says is a reasonable “fallback plan.”

Couples say that civil unions don’t guarantee the same protections married couples enjoy. Fred Hess says he and his partner of many years faced a difficult time last year when his partner got sick and he needed to take time off. Fortunately, his employer was understanding. Other employers might not be so generous, he said.

“if everyone, straight or gay, was under the same civil union legislation, then I might be for that,” said Hess. Until then he says, marriage is universal and allows protections that civil unions do not.

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