Minnesota Senate Approves Same-Sex Marriage; Capitol Throng Celebrates Historic Victory

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SWAK: Tim Robinson, left, and husband Gary Lundstrom celebrate passage of the same-sex marriage law. On Aug. 1, in Duluth, they plan to tie the knot.

4:18 p.m. May 13, 2013: The Senate has passed the same-sex marriage bill on a vote of 37-30.

The Minnesota Capitol rocked with cheers and celebration Monday afternoon as the state Senate approved the same-sex marriage bill that was approved last Thursday by the House of Representatives, clearing the way for same-sex marriages to become legal in the state by this summer.

(See The UpTake’s a photo and video blog of today’s historic action, below.)

A crowd estimated at about 2,500 persons — twice as many as were on hand for the vote last Thursday, when the Minnesota House approved the bill legalizing same-sex marriage — packed into the Capitol Rotunda and corridors, eagerly awaiting Senate approval, which sets the stage for Gov. Mark Dayton, who plans to sign the legislation into law tomorrow (Tuesday).

The debate on the bill, which began about 1:50 p.m. after a couple of amendments were debated and defeated, offered an extraordinary and emotional look into a conversation over marriage rights that has divided the state for years but appears to be on the brink of a sudden and decisive conclusion. There were several riveting moments, including a heart-felt floor speech in Spanish — her first-ever — from Richfield DFLer Patricia Torres Ray.

A historic occasion in its own right, Torres Ray used her native tongue to explain to her family and Spanish-speaking friends — most of whom oppose same-sex marriage — why she was voting in favor of the bill.

Many other senators — there are 67 — spoke in deeply personal terms about their backgrounds, their beliefs and their faith before urging their colleagues to vote Yea or Nay. Some warned that, contrary to the mood of the day, the vote was unlikely to resolve the fight over same-sex marriage in Minnesota, which is four decades long.

“No matter what the vote is today, it’s not going away,” said Republican Paul Gazelka, of Nisswa. “How we get through this afterwards is what I’m concerned about.”

Sen. Charles Wiger, a DFLer from Maplewood, summed up a number of the other speeches with a pithy, “It seems that God supports each side in this debate.”

Sen. Branden Petersen, an Anoka Republican whose February announcement that he would vote for same-sex marriage helped push the vote forward, said he is aware that his vote is politically unpopular in his party. “I’m more uncertain than ever of my future in this building,” he said. “But I’m absolutely certain that I’m standing on the side of individual liberty.”

Opposition to same-sex marriage stems from deep convictions, said Republican Minority Leader David Hann of Eden Prairie. “These are not fringe beliefs,” he said. “These ate not transient beliefs. They are long-standing beliefs held by millions of people. Let’s be honest:This changing of what marriage means will affect all of us, (and affect) the only institution that unites children with their biological father and mother. I’m going to vote, ‘No.’ ”

Dibble, who is gay and has a long-time partner, Richard, (“the love I can’t live without”) who he married in California in 2008, began to wind up the debate with a poem from Langston Hughes, Let America Be America Again. He then recalled the moment, two years ago, when the Legislature voted to put an amendment on the ballot outlawing same-sex marriage: “I felt tremendous pain that day,” he said. “I felt excluded. Friends I had in this chamber sought to cut me out from the Constitution.”

“Here in Minnesota, Richard and I are legal strangers to each other,” said Dibble, a Minneapolis Democrat who is the chief author of the Senate legislation. “How can that be OK?”

Dibble saluted the late Sen. Allan Spear, the state’s first openly gay senator, and other pioneers, such as Jack Baker and Michael McConnell, who began a fight for same-sex marriage more than 40 years ago. But think of the thousands of Minnesotans in the years to come, he said, who grow up and “fall in love and share a life and the excitement when they race home to tell their mom and dad they’re going to get married…

“That is a legacy to be proud of. Vote yes for freedom, vote yes for family, vote yes for commitment, vote yes for dignity…Vote yes for love.”

The final tally was 37 votes in favor, 30 against.

Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to sign the bill into law tomorrow. Full coverage will be on The UpTake.

The first hour and a half of today’s Senate debate were taken up with arguments over an amendment dealing with the possible implications of a same-sex marriage law on private-sector businesses, including florists and wedding photographers. Opponents of same-sex marriage have argued that citizens who don’t support the idea might be subject to civil penalties if they don’t provide business services to same-sex couples. Proponents of the bill argue that the state’s human rights laws should still apply, as they have for the past 20 years, and prohibit discrimination against gays.

Sen. Warren Limmer, a Maple Grove Republican, said small business owners might be forced to “quit their businesses, or perhaps get on their knees to ask forgiveness,” if the law is passed as proposed.

Dibble argued that the amendment permitting businesses and service providers to refuse trade to same-sex couples would lead to complicated conflicts, such as caterers and “hundreds of other services” being permitted to not serve gay people.
“Civil rights laws protect human dignity, so people can participate fully in a free and open society,” Dibble said.

The amendment was defeated on a 41-26 vote. After a second amendment was defeated, debate on the main bill began about 1:50 p.m.

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